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Tibet reinvents itself as a channel to South Asia

Prakash, a thangka dealer fromNepal, brought over 1,000 of the scroll paintings to the ChinaTibet Tourism and Culture Expo, after the 200 thangka he broughtlast year were quickly snapped up.”China has become such an importantmarket for me that I value the expo more than anything,” Prakashsaid.This expo, the third, took place inLhasa, Tibet, and lasted for a whole week. It attracted around 400overseas guests from 15 countries including France, Nepal,Pakistan, the Republic of Korea and the United States. Over 200 ofthe merchants were from Nepal with many others from nearby Asiancountries.Tibet Autonomous Region insouthwest China is shaking off its reputation as remote andinaccessible, and gaining a new status as a warm and welcomingdestination.

ROOF OF THE WORLDTibet”s distinctive culture and thetourists it attracts have been vital in turning the region into themain trade channel between China and South Asia.Faced with a wide range of Tibetangoods at the expo, Prakash decided to purchase a number of itemswith the money he had just made to sell back in Nepal.According to Tibet”s department ofcommerce, this year there were more than double the number ofNepalese dealers and companies at the expo than last year”s event.Buddha figures, copperware and carpets are their most commoncommodities.Nepal has been Tibet”s largesttrading partner since 2006 and, according to Lhasa customs, morethan 10 billion yuan (1.5 billion U.S. dollars) flowed between thetwo in 2014, more than 90 percent of the autonomous region”s totaltrade.The only land port between Chinaand India in Tibet”s Xigaze City saw an exchange of goods worthmore than 100 million yuan for the first time in 2014, a quitedramatic increase on a trade volume of around 1.5 million yuan whenthe frontier reopened in 2006.Tibet is adjacent to Qinghai,Sichuan, Xinjiang and Yunnan — all deeply important to China”sBelt and Road Initiative.Justin Yifu Lin, former chiefeconomist at the World Bank, now with Peking University NationalSchool of Development, sees Tibet”s unique geographical advantagesas key to regional interconnectivity and cooperation.Lin also pointed out that exchangesof tea, salt and ponies between Tibet and Asian countries along theancient Tea Horse Road have been going on for around 1,000 years,forming the perfect foundation for modern economic activity.Tibet reported a totalexport-import volume of over 5.66 billion yuan last year, engagingin bilateral trade with 77 countries and regions.CONNECTIONS, CONSERVATIONWith increasing investment frompublic and private sectors flooding into the region, infrastructureconstruction is proceeding more quickly than ever before, mostnotably in terms of transportation, water conservancy andenergy.Himalaya Airlines, a China-Nepaljoint venture, was registered in Nepal this year and has starteddaily flights.Shan Jixiang, director of thePalace Museum in Beijing, sees tourism as a shortcut to increasedTibet”s connectivity with South Asia. The autonomous regionreceived over 20 million domestic visitors in 2015, up 5.5 percentand accounting for about 27 percent of the region”s GDP.Once integrated with otherindustries, culture and tourism will create new economic growthsources, according to chairman of Tibet”s regional governmentLosang Jamcan.Karan Sharma, a travel agent fromIndia and a first-timer at the expo, pins high hopes on hiscompany”s New Delhi-Kathmandu-Tibet tour, and after only one daytour in Lhasa, he felt even more confident.”I never thought Lhasa would be somodern. The city”s infrastructure is so much improved,” he said.”Better links between Tibet and South Asia will definitely bringstrong opportunities in regional tourism and other industries.”Endi


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