Tibet fears sparked by China flood of workers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 1996, 12:00am

Hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese are to be moved into Tibet to work in copper mines, in a move certain to raise concern about dilution of the indigenous population.

The mines are being developed in an exploration costing more than 10 billion yuan (HK$9.29 billion) over the next five years.

'Beijing authorities plan to build several towns in the mining area to accommodate the migrant workers. Each town will be home to about 100,000 migrant workers,' official sources said.

It is expected the number of Han Chinese workers will grow to about 500,000.

Mass immigration of Chinese has in the past intensified ethnic tensions in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Xinhua (the New China News Agency) last month released data in an effort to counter Western allegations the population was being diluted by Han Chinese.

Sources said Beijing had decided to develop the huge copper deposits in eastern Tibet.

'The range of copper mines are 500 kilometres long and 15 to 30 kilometres wide. It is the second largest group of copper mines in Asia - the largest is in Jiangxi province,' one source said.

More than 300,000 mine workers would work day and night and most would be Han Chinese migrants.

Robert Barnett, spokesman for the Tibet Information Network in London, warned against the influx.

'Mass immigration will intensify ethnic tensions and Tibetans have strong resentment against the policy,' he said.

Han workers in Tibet get paid three or four times more than elsewhere, because of hardship allowances, he said.

Rejecting claims that the Tibetan population was being diluted, Xinhua last month cited a sample population survey conducted late last year.

It showed Han Chinese in Tibet numbered 79,000 out of a total 2.39 million population.

However, unofficial figures show increasing numbers of Chinese traders and workers have pushed the Chinese population to about 150,000, with the urban population predominantly Han Chinese.

Chinese officials said the copper mining project was not aimed at mass immigration of Chinese workers. It was intended to develop the economy of the area.

'The copper mines in the region are of very good mineral quality.

'Copper ore will be semi-refined into copper lumps before transport to copper plants in other regions,' a source said.

The Lancang River will provide water for the mining process and hydro-electric power.

'The project is going to generate a huge income and tax will be contributed to the Tibet Government.

'Even the Dalai Lama will have no reason to complain about the project,' the source said.