The natural beauty of Tibet, the thousand-year-old Himalayan roof of the world, still dazzles the few visitors who are allowed in. But these days in many places, bulldozers, highways, and modern apartment towers have replaced the grazing yaks and the chanting Buddhist monks. The unstoppable advance of modernity and Chinese construction projects among the Himalayan snow-covered peaks means it is now possible to travel distances in a matter of just a few hours that not long ago would have taken days to cover. One might even come across a shepherd tending his flock at 4,000 meters engrossed in a 5G-ready smartphone. According to the Beijing government, extreme poverty – an endemic problem in Tibet, where pastoralism has traditionally been the sole source of income for most people – has been eradicated. In recent years, the central government has made colossal investments in Tibet, both in infrastructure and poverty reduction programs. Since 2016, Beijing has invested 74.85 billion yuan in projects to improve access to health, education, clean water, housing, or infrastructure in the region’s poorest areas. More than six hundred thousands Tibetans have been lifted out of poverty, and 266,000 of them have been relocated “voluntarily”, according to Wu Yingjie, secretary-general of the party in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet told reporters during a government-guided tour of the region recently, the only way foreign journalists are permitted to visit. The enormous red signs along all the highways and in cities bearing messages thanking people for their support of the Communist Party and calling for unity were unheard of just two years ago in this remote enclave. Desertification is also advancing: real sand dunes are increasingly appearing on mountains and in rivers due to climate change. So is the predominance of Mandarin Chinese in classrooms and on the streets. According to data from the 2010 Chinese official census, 90.48 per cent were ethnic Tibetans, 8.17 per cent Han Chinese – the majority in China – and the rest of the 40 ethnic minorities that populate the region. Tibetan ethnic numbers have been decreasing in recent decades – 95.5 per cent in 1990 and 92.8 per cent in 2000 – while that of the Han ethnic group has kept growing – 3.4 per cent in 1990 and five per cent in 2000 – and it is estimated that currently, it may already be above 10 per cent.
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