Tibet's holy city to be transformed into 'modern metropolis'


FOR CENTURIES, Lhasa was a closed holy city at the roof of the world, closed to visitors by its sheer remoteness, home to monks tending its sacred sites and a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists all around the Tibetan plateau.

Now Lhasa is set to become a “co-ordinated and distinctive modern metropolis” by 2020, according to an urban planning scheme approved by the State Council yesterday.

The refit plans tie in closely with Chinese president Hu Jintao’s call for a “Great Wall” of stability in the restive province and will do much to entrench the position of the Han Chinese settlers who have come there since 1949.

“As capital city of the Tibet autonomous region, Lhasa must insist upon a sustainable development strategy to reconcile economic, environmental and population concerns at the same time,” according to a report in the China Daily newspaper.

The Chinese have brought railways and highways, but the plan is sure to reignite Tibetan fears of growing domination by the Han Chinese and further dilution of traditional Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetans, has accused Beijing of creating “Chinese apartheid” in Tibet and of colonising the region to the extent that the indigenous Tibetans will be overwhelmed.

One side of Lhasa is dominated by the Tibetans, while a newer section is given over to Han Chinese settlers who have flooded into Lhasa since the 1950s.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron hand since the arrival of People’s Liberation Army troops in 1950, which it says freed the serfs and began a period of prosperity and stability for the region.

The State Council urged local authorities to “cautiously preserve” the city’s architectural aesthetics, its massive cultural relics and omnipresent religious sites, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

As part of the plan, Lhasa will have to cap its central population at less than 450,000, while constraining its land used for urban development within 75 square kilometres.

A census of the region in 1953 showed that Lhasa had a population of 30,000, “and 4,000 of them were beggars,” the paper reported.

“Today, the city is home to about 500,000 people, which increased more than 11 times since the liberation of Tibet in 1951,” it said.

Tibet is in lockdown at the moment to prevent a repeat of anti-Chinese demonstrations this time last year, which marked the anniversary of the crushing of a revolt against Chinese rule.