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China publishes report on Tibet's economic, social development
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The Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Center published a comprehensive report on Tibet's economic and social development on Monday, in which it outlined the region's changes over the past 50 years through facts and figures.

The authors, all scholars having long been engaged in Tibetan studies, compiled the report from in-person surveys and case studies after two trips to Tibet last year.

The authors said in the report's foreword that their goal was to give a comprehensive view of the economic and social development of contemporary Tibet and a reference for policy makers to work on the region's further development.

Tibet's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was 13,861 yuan (2,029 U.S. dollars) last year, a giant leap from the 142 yuan recorded in 1959 when the Chinese central government began democratic reform there, the report said.

Although the 2008 figure was still much less than the national average of 22,698 yuan, the report said the fact should be taken into account that the region's economic growth started from a very low level.

The report attributed the robust economic development to the central government's fiscal transfer payment and input for various projects in the region, as well as assistance from more-developed inland provinces and cities.

From 1959 to 2008, transfer from the central fiscal account to Tibet amounted to 201.9 billion yuan. From 2001 to 2008 alone, transfers totaled more than 154.1 billion yuan, which made up 93.7 percent of the region's financial revenue in the period.

"This means that for every 100 yuan that Tibet spent, more than 90 yuan came from the central government," the report said.

In infrastructure, a 51,300-km network of highways had connected every Tibetan county as of the end of last year. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the 1,956-km rail link that began to run on the "roof of the world" in 2006, did much to spur growth in tourism, cars, housing, catering and entertainment.

The telecommunication sector in Tibet also registered unprecedented progress in the past half century, with the number of telephones rising from 276 in the whole region in 1959 to 55 for every 100 people now. With some 800 websites, its Internet population has also neared 200,000, according to the report.

The ultimate goal of economic development was human development, the report said.

"Tibet today sees a comparatively high birth rate and life expectancy, low mortality rate, and a steady growth in population," it said.

In the less than 60 years from Tibet's peaceful liberation in 1951 to 2008, the local Tibetan population increased from about 1 million to 2.7 million. In comparison, the report said, during the two centuries before the 1959 democratic reform, the local population only increased by 58,000,while the Tibetan population practically stopped growing.

The family planning policy, which has been widely adopted in inland areas and basically limited families to one child, is not implemented in the vast agricultural and pastoral areas of Tibet, it said.

The average life expectancy in Tibet, an important index of human development, has also risen to 67 years from 35.5 in old Tibet.

Maternal mortality dropped from 50 deaths per 1,000 live births in the early 1950s to 3.1 per 1,000 in 2007, and the infant mortality rate dropped from 430 deaths per 1,000 to 24.5 per 1,000.

Although more people from other parts of China have come to Tibet to seek employment and business opportunities, the Tibetan population remains the overwhelming majority in the region, accounting for a steady 90 percent or more of the local population, it said.

"It is clear that the assertion that 'local Tibetan people are becoming a minority due to a large inflow of Han people into the region,' made by some international non-government organizations and individuals, is a false assumption contrary to the facts," it said.

According to the report, the number of medical facilities in Tibet have increased nearly 20 times over the past 50 years to 1,339.

Before the democratic reform, education was monopolized by monasteries, and more than 95 percent of Tibetans were illiterate. Nowadays, the average years spent in school has reached 6.3 years and illiteracy among adults under the age of 50 has fallen to below 2.4 percent.

As of the end of 2006, 95.6 percent of Tibet's primary school students and 94.62 percent of the junior high school students had been offered bilingual courses in Tibetan and Chinese, it said.

Tibetan farmers and herdsmen are leading relatively comfortable lives, and durable goods like TV sets, radios, video recorders and mobile phones have entered many rural Tibetan homes. About 20 percent of rural households have bought trucks or tractors, and it is a trend in the pastoral areas of northern Tibet to buy the latest model of motorcycles, according to the report.

As Tibet's economy was developing rapidly, the government was making increasing legal, administrative and financial efforts to protect the environment and improve the ecology of Tibet, the report said. The central government planned to make the region into a protective screen for regional ecological security in the next two decades.

Bio-diversity in Tibet has also been well protected, with no species declared extinct since 1951. About 34.8 percent of the region's land area has been designated as nature reserves.

"In China, Tibet is the place nearest to the sky and furthest from pollution," it said.

Despite achievements in the economic, human and sustainable development over the years, Tibet still faces many difficulties and challenges in its development, the report said.

It cited the high development costs associated with the region's remote and harsh location, developmental imbalances between rural and urban areas and relatively underdeveloped human capital.

The March 14 Lhasa riot last year also temporarily hit the local tourism sector, which has been recovering as the situation has stabilized, it said.

In conclusion, the report's authors said they expected sound and rapid economic and social development in Tibet, boosted by increasing central government fiscal support and investment, rising income for farmers and herders and expanding local consumer demand.

(Xinhua News Agency March 30, 2009)

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