Source AP ©

Six new railway lines to be added in and around Tibet

China is planning to build six new railway lines in and around Tibet, expanding services that the government says are improving the Himalayan region's economy but that critics complain pose a threat to Tibetan culture.

The Ministry of Railways said in an announcement on its Web site that two of the new lines would run from the capital, Lhasa, to other areas in Tibet, while the other four would be built in neighboring provinces on the Tibetan plateau.

The announcement was posted Saturday and reported in state-run media on Sunday.

The new lines are to go into operation before 2020 and give the Tibetan plateau region closer interaction with the economy and culture of China, the ministry said.

China in 2006 opened the final link of a line from Beijing to Lhasa, a multibillion-dollar project that Beijing boasts is the world's highest railway. Much of the last third of 710-mile (1,140-kilometer) link was specially engineered to protect delicate frozen earth.

Tourism has increased since the completion of the railway, and Beijing has encouraged majority Han Chinese to travel and move to the region.

The ministry said that in two years, the railway has moved 5.56 million passengers and 4.05 million tons of cargo, which has lowered local prices of goods.

Foreign activists say the railway enables the government to exploit the region's natural resources while threatening its Buddhist culture and traditional way of life.

China has defended policies in Tibet, saying improvements in infrastructure and health care, along with campaigns to settle nomadic herders in permanent communities, were improving the quality of life.

China says Tibet has been its territory for centuries. Tibetan activists say the region was independent before the Communist Army occupied it in 1951.