Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Further written evidence submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office



  The Chinese government estimates the number of ethnic Tibetans in China to be over five million. Around half of these live outside the borders of the present Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), mainly in neighbouring Qinghai, Sichuan or Yunnan Provinces. The most recent Chinese government statistics gave the population of the TAR as 2.76 million in November 2005. Of these, 2.5 million (92%) were ethnic Tibetans, and 180,000 were Han Chinese (6.5%). The remainder were from other ethnic groups. In addition to these settled Han Chinese, official statistics from 2003 counted a further 245,000 migrant workers from elsewhere in China (mainly—81% of them—from neighbouring Sichuan Province) as currently working in Tibet. The majority of these will be ethnic Han Chinese, though some will be from other ethnic groups, including Tibetans whose official place of residence is outside the TAR. The number of migrants is likely to have risen since this survey was carried out, and a realistic estimate would be that the number is now over 300,000.

  The presence of Han Chinese is felt disproportionately in the cities, since 80% of the Tibetan population (around two million) continue to live in rural areas, often at subsistence level, and some still as nomads. The Han Chinese and other migrant workers are concentrated almost exclusively in Lhasa and one or two other urban areas. In urban areas, the number of Han Chinese is almost equal to the number of ethnic Tibetans. The official population of Lhasa is 420,000. Though ethnic Tibetans make up around half this number, they live and work mainly in the more crowded old town around the Jhokand temple. Han Chinese tend to live in the more spacious and more recently developed suburbs, which is also where most larger scale businesses operate.

  With the imminent opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, it is expected that more migrants from outside the TAR will arrive, and perhaps settle along the route of the railway as well as in the urban areas. But it is difficult to measure migrant flows, as it is very difficult for Chinese citizens to move their official place of residence (unless they are public servants), and the official estimates of migrants make no distinction between temporary or seasonal workers and those who have settled almost permanently even without official status.

  A number of recent surveys have moved away from criticising Beijing's presence in the TAR per se to more nuanced studies looking at the question of economic discrimination. There have been a number of recent studies of Beijing's development policies in the TAR which criticise the authorities for overlooking the majority of the Tibetan population and adopting policies that favour key sectors where Han Chinese tend to dominate. In a 2002 study Andrew Fischer (who spent some time at LSE) broke down the TAR's excellent growth figures (over 10% since 1998). He noted "the dynamic and growing parts of the economy are concentrated in services, administration, construction and a limited amount of industry, all of which are closely tied to the state" and which "are exclusively located in urban areas and townships where non-Tibetan immigrants and government administration increasingly congregate. Government spending and investment reinforces this bias within the economy". In contrast the agricultural/rural sector grew by only 2% annually from 1998-2001. As a result inequality between rural Tibetans and urban residents (including both Han and Tibetan) is one of the worst in China. Fischer also highlights the continuing low social indicators, ie on literacy and health, in rural areas of the TAR.

  Increasingly campaigners are calling for a development policy which focuses on:

    —  Development of skills of local population in relevant areas for the local economy.

    —  Greater investment in agriculture, where the majority of local Tibetans live, and the development of non-agricultural work in rural areas (a key plank of rural development in other areas of China).

    —  Development of infrastructure in rural areas ie roads (where Beijing has a good story to tell) and alternative forms of energy.

    —  Greater use of micro credit.


  The Chinese have joined in informal talks with representatives of the DL since 2002 (the most recent meeting taking place in Beijing in February this year). However, the Chinese have set a series of pre-conditions (including renouncing independence for Tibet and recognising Taiwan as a province of China) to be met before any serious negotiations can begin. While the Tibetans have made some positive movements towards meeting these demands—most notably that the Dalai Lama has stated he no longer seeks independence but genuine autonomy and self-rule for Tibet (through his Middle Way approach)—the Chinese have yet to respond and reports suggest they are not yet convinced of the Dalai Lama's good faith. They point to his recent visit to the United States, ostensibly for medical treatment, but coinciding with President Hu's visit, in which he gave high profile interviews, and suggested that an autonomous Tibet might be able to take responsibility for its external relations. There are key stumbling blocks to real negotiations beginning, not least differing interpretations of what constitutes "Tibet". The Chinese have recently refused requests for the Dalai Lama to visit China (on a religious pilgrimage) on the grounds that the time "is not yet ripe". We use every appropriate opportunities to encourage the Chinese to engage in meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama (see para 33 of FCO Memorandum for further details—FAC Evidence Ref EAs06).

Asia Pacific Directorate

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

5 May 2006

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