Saturday, January 11, 2014

Will Chinese tourists fly over Tibet

Landing at Gongkar
How do Chinese tourists go to the Roof of the World?
Though the official figures for 2013 have not been published as yet, one can safely bet that between 13 and 14 millions Han tourists visited Tibet during the last year. 
Let us not forget that Beijing's target is 15 millions for 2015.
How do these visitors reach Lhasa?
China Tibet Online reported yesterday: "Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region received a record 2.76 million air passengers in 2013, up 24.4 percent from the previous year".
Quoting the regional civil aviation authorities, it says: :"Tibet opened 13 new air routes last year, bringing the total number in the region to 48 and the number of cities linked with Tibet to 29."
Sonam Tsephel, an official at Lhasa's Gonggar [Gongkar] Airport stated: "The decreasing number of days with sandy weather in recent years has contributed to the increasing air passenger traffic."
Statistics from the regional meteorological bureau, if correct, tends to prove that while the number of 'sandy' days in the vicinity of the capital's airport was about 206 in the 1980s, it has dropped to about 100 now.
But is it really a factor which stops the tourists to use the plane?
The number of passengers at the Lhasa Gongkar Airport, which was opened in 1965, crossed 1 million in 2006 and 2 million in 2013. It is expected to be more than 3 million in 2014.
Tsephel, as any good official, follows the Party line and attribute the increased flow of visitors to 'sound social stability and economic development'.
The same publication, China Tibet Online informed us that, according to statistics of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway: "The Lhasa Railway Station has carried 1.01 million departing passengers in 2013, a 10.44 percent rise from 917,900, the figure in 2012; the number of arriving passengers has hit 1.10 million, a 13.11 increase year on year."
One could ask, where the 100,000 passengers vanished?
This is not answered by the authorities.
Zhang Qiang, head of the Lhasa Railway Station explained that "the station has enacted a more proactive marketing policy and completed the mission during the Spring Festival peak season."
I have written in detail about the 'proactive marketing policy'.
Zhang said that  312,000 passengers departed from the station during the summer holiday alone, adding "the Qinghai-Tibet railway, since inauguration on July 1, 2006, has carried 12.64 million passengers."
Now, some mathematics!
If you add the 2.76 millions air passengers to the 1.1 million using the train, you reach a figure close to 4 millions using air and train.
My question is: how do the other 10 milions or so of Chinese Han reach Lhasa?
In flying in the air like the great yogi Milarepa?
Probably not. So, how?
It can safely be deducted that they come by road from the mainland (Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan or Sichuan provinces).
Ten millions visitors on the mountainous roads of the Tibetan plateau is not a joke. I can bring only a tremendous air pollution.
At the same time, Chen Quanguo, Tibet Autonomous Region's Communist chief recently declared that "protecting every mountain, every river, every tree, every blade of grass is essential".
Speaking at a regional economic conference in Lhasa, Chen affirmed that the regional government has adopted four measures to improve environmental protection and economic development.
He listed these measures:
  • To create strict standards for emissions on new projects, guaranteeing that they do not harm the ecology.
  • To take strict control measures on the exploitation of mineral resources and sets the protection of the environment as a priority.
  • To tighten the schedule for ecological conservation to be done between 2013 to 2030 and launch afforestation projects along four rivers to create tree coverage of more than 66,670 hectares.
  • To strengthen the supervision of ecological conservation and implements administrative measures on regional environment protection.
Flying mystics of Tibet
Further, Chen spoke about ensuring that the main "rivers and lakes on the plateau maintain a high water and air quality and to control total pollutant emissions within the State-approved range."
Chen affirmed: "Tibet invested 4.8 billion yuan (770 millions US dollars) over the construction of ecological shelter zones and carried out a total compensation of 2.8 billion (450 millions US dollars) toward subsidies for grassland ecological conservation".
In his calculations, Mr. Chen has probably forgotten to take into account the increasing number of Chinese tourists visiting Lhasa and its surroundings.
Ten millions visitors coming by road bring a considerable air pollution.
But perhaps the Communist Party Secretary will offer to the Han tourists advanced courses in yoga and teach them some of Milarepa's techniques.
That would be good.

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