Should our province give priority to tourism, or to preserving the environment? That is the dilemma facing Qinghai, an under-developed province in west China, ever since the Qinghai-Tibet highland railway became operational in July 2006.
Provincial authorities have chosen to cash in on the world's highest railway but claim they are giving equal attention to the two.
"Tourism and protecting the environment seem incompatible, but we are doing our best to make them work together," said Qinghai Vice Governor Jidi Majia, an Yi ethnic minority official.
"But environmental and ecological protection come first," he told Xinhua.
According to official figures, the number of tourists in Qinghai Province was up 22 percent in the first half of 2007 on the same period of last year. Tourist agreements worth two billion yuan (about 263 million U.S. dollars) have been signed this year.
The province has added 1476 hotels and now boasts more than 170 travel agencies.
"The Qinghai-Tibet railway has given us a historical opportunity to develop Qinghai province," said Jidi Majia, adding that tourism and business will help improve people's living conditions.
Qinghai Province is home to some fragile plateau ecological reserves like the Three-River Headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers. Some Tibetan groups have criticized the construction of the railway, saying it would put pressure on the local ecosystem.
The unique plateau landscape, religious culture and ecosystem constitute a magnet for domestic and overseas tourists.
"Of course, too many tourists is not a good thing," said Jidi Majia. "We want our tourism industry to be healthy and ecological."
The Qinghai-Tibet railways stretches 1,956 km from Qinghai's capital Xining to Lhasa, capital of China's Tibet Autonomous Region. A year after its inauguration, the railway has transported 1.5 million passengers into Tibet, nearly half of the total tourists arrivals in the region.
(Xinhua News Agency July 11, 2007)