Cranes and tall buildings can be seen everywhere in Lhasa, which faces the Himalayas. AFP says Lhasa is experiencing a building boom thanks to Chinese investment. But this has also created a two-speed real estate market, one for officials and one for the rest of the population.
According to AFP, China in Tibet intends to use economic development to stop separatism. In order to link Tibet with the rest of China, Beijing has invested heavily in Tibetan infrastructure (airports, roads, railroads) since the anti-Chinese riots of 2008. Its stated goal is to promote change and development in Tibet by modernizing daily life on the roof of the world.
But the construction sites dotting Lhasa are changing the urban fabric of this Buddhist holy land. Real estate construction also highlights the disparities between rich and poor in a sensitive region where residents are divided in two in the face of Chinese sovereign control.
A few blocks from the Potala Palace, where the Dalai Lama lived until his exile in 1959, workers are completing high-rise buildings built by Chinese developer Beyoncé Garden. The high-end condominiums are selling for prices similar to those of luxury homes in ordinary Chinese cities, but are a far cry from the average income in Tibet, which remains the lowest in the country.
As a result, the real estate frenzy is polarizing the city of 860,000 people between public sector officials who can afford to move into these brand new apartments and the rest of the population, according to the report.
Many civil service positions are held by Tibetans, but there are also people of other nationalities, particularly Han Chinese. Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of the population in the rest of China.
The Tibetan Autonomous Region now has one of the highest economic growth rates in the country, with nearly 1 million square meters of new housing sold in Lhasa alone in 2020. That’s 28 percent more than the previous year. In a visit organized by the government, AFP found documents from real estate agencies showing that more than 30 new projects are currently out.
Foreign journalists are not allowed to visit Tibetan areas independently.
But acquiring high-end housing property requires government work, according to Andrew Fischer, a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, “because there are not many other ways to earn that money. Andrew Fischer said the real estate market only opens apartment doors for people who have the money to buy a home.
According to Emily Yeh, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, “Under these conditions, poorly educated residents from rural Tibet have little opportunity to move into such housing in their new communities.”
Many of them have a poor grasp of Chinese, but it is a prerequisite for a job in the civil service.
According to the report, the continued illiteracy also exacerbates the divisions in the community. According to Fischer, “On the one hand, about 10 percent of the Tibetan population has received higher education, while on the other hand, a third of Tibetans remain illiterate.”
The other side of the coin for Tibetans who have become civil servants is that entering the Chinese civil service often means giving up their religious beliefs, which is heartbreaking for many.
But even at the top end of such populations, competition for jobs is fierce, and many young graduates are left on the competitive side of the road. One overseas Tibetan, who requested anonymity, said, “Most of them work for the Chinese state, but more and more well-educated young Tibetans are unable to find government jobs.”
AFP said no data was available on ethnicity among Tibetan civil servants.
But according to official figures, native Chinese speakers now make up 12 percent of the region’s population , a trend that has increased competition for jobs.
In the old city, residents are increasingly leaving their traditional places of residence to make way for stores or hotels that beckon tourists. Many of them have moved to the suburbs.
While they acknowledge the move to new homes with better housing infrastructure and living conditions, Tibetans in exile are concerned about the changes around the Jokhang Temple, the symbol of Lhasa’s spiritual core. The streets leading to the Dagoba are now marked by signs for American fast food chains such as KFC and Pizza Hut. Tourists from other parts of China also wear traditional Tibetan costumes for photos. Seventy years after communist forces invaded Tibet, the city is adorned with Chinese flags, red lanterns and portraits of President Xi Jinping, AFP said.
As the former capital of the Dalai Lama, “Lhasa is not just a holy city, it is also politically important to the identity of Tibetans,” according to Tenzin Trulge, a researcher with Tibet Watch. Tenzin Trij said wonders, “But when Tibetans look at Tibet, what exactly is left of their history?”
Filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, who served six years in prison and made a documentary about Tibetan discontent with Beijing, argues that “Tibet’s infrastructure is all built to benefit China.” Dhondup Wangchen, who is based in the United States, said, “The changes imposed on Tibetans aimed at erasing their identity and culture can never be compensated for by a few real estate projects.”