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Xizang's development reaching new heights
By:China Daily
update:June 06,2024
Autonomous region thriving with slew of sustainable projects aimed at boosting overall growth

The Xizang autonomous region in Southwest China has achieved all-around progress in multiple socioeconomic sectors and blazed a new trail for high-quality development with characteristics of the plateau region, Xizang's officials announced at a recent news conference in Beijing.

Yan Jinhai, chairman of the autonomous region, and other officials from Xizang attended a news conference hosted by the Information Office of the State Council on May 23, sharing Xizang's progress to reporters with numbers, facts and vivid stories.

Yan said Xizang's regional GDP increased from 190 billion yuan ($26.24 billion) in 2021 to 240 billion yuan in 2023 and its per capita GDP grew from 52,300 yuan to 60,000 yuan during the same period. He added that the growth rates in per capita incomes of urban and rural residents are among the highest in the country.

The official said that such rapid and sustained growth is the result of Xizang's strategy to promote the development of industries with local characteristics and local advantages. These industries include cultural tourism, farming with plateau characteristics, Tibetan medicine and the digital economy.

When talking about the cultural tourism industry, Yan said Xizang received 55.17 million tourist visits last year and its tourism revenue totaled 65.1 billion yuan, increasing 83.7 percent and 60 percent year-on-year respectively — both rates being local historical records.

Welcoming back tourists

He added that Xizang began to welcome back overseas tourists since last year, after a three-year halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic starting at the end of 2019. The autonomous region received nearly 20,000 foreign tourists in 2023 and more than 4,300 in the first quarter of this year.

Yan said tourism has now become an important source of revenue for Xizang residents, especially for those in rural areas.

He said he took a research tour of Conggo village in Kongpo'gyada county in Nyingchi city in early May to learn about its development in rural tourism.

"I was told that this forest-surrounded village with 108 households and 438 residents used to have its economy relying on logging," Yan said. "And now the villagers have turned their forestry farms into scenic sites and tourism has become the major stream of income."

He said many families in the village are operating bed-and-breakfast businesses in their newly built two-story houses and some have made a fortune through the businesses.

He cited the villager Choyang as an example, saying that her family garnered a net income of 155,000 yuan last year and the contribution from her B&B business was more than 80,000 yuan.

Yan said the village's total tourism revenue was 2.36 million yuan last year and the villagers' per capita annual income was 27,000 yuan, 7,000 yuan more than the average per capita income of Xizang's rural residents.

When answering the question of a reporter from Venezuela on Xizang's tourism development, Xu Zhitao, vice-chairman of the autonomous region, said that Xizang has its unique appeal to tourists from all over the world and he is very optimistic about the future of local tourism.

"Xizang's tourism combines spectacular natural wonders and colorful ethnic cultures and showcases the harmonious coexistence of man and nature," Xu said. "This is where the strength of our tourism lies."

He estimated that the tourism industry can keep a double-digit increase this year and the momentum can be sustained in the years to come.

Characteristic agriculture

When talking about the agricultural industry that includes farming and husbandry, Xizang Chairman Yan said he is proud that this industry achieved a year-on-year increase of 14.9 percent last year, a rate keeping it at the forefront of the nation.

In the agricultural industry, Xizang has highlighted such characteristic sectors as yak and highland barley farming.

"Strengthening research on these characteristic sectors and extending their industry chains are crucial in driving growth," Yan said.

He cited the example of Kelsangtang Modern Agriculture Demonstration Park in Lhasa's Lhundrub county, which is famous for modernized yak farming.

"During my tour of the park recently, local researchers told me that the traditional way of yak farming featured a long growth period and low economic efficiency," Yan said.

He said he got to learn that researchers in the park developed high-efficiency yak farming through the breeding of fast-growing varieties and boosting yaks' growth via nutrition enhancement. As a result, the yaks can grow mature in three to four years, compared with eight to 12 years with traditional farming. The shortened maturation period can lead to a substantial increase in economic returns.

Yan also talked about highland barley farming. Highland barley, also known as qingke among locals, is the staple food ingredient in Xizang. Researchers recently found that qingke has a rich content of nutritional substances beneficial to human health and that is why Tibetan people survived the harsh natural environment of a high-altitude plateau for thousands of years.

"In October 2023, a Chinese delegation won the championship during a bread-making competition in Germany, thanks to the use of qingke flour as the main ingredient," Yan said, adding that the award shows the recognition of Xizang's nutrition-rich qingke among consumers in the West.

As a result of local agronomists' constant efforts in breeding research, the official said Xizang has seen steady growth in the output of qingke. Last year, the output reached 840,000 metric tons, increasing 6.1 percent from 2020.

"Currently, the annual consumption of qingke in Xizang is about 700,000 tons, meaning that there is a surplus of 140,000 tons for making value-added products," Yan said. "We are now extending the qingke industry chain to such finished products as qingke wine and beer, biscuits, noodles and flour, allowing more consumers in the world to enjoy the high-quality qingke products from Xizang, while helping our local farmers increase revenue."

Significant niche products

Yan in particular mentioned one niche product series with local characteristics — pressure-enhancing cooking utensils.

"Because of the lower atmospheric pressure in higher-altitude regions, the boiling point of water is much lower than 100 C in Xizang, for instance, 82 C in Lhasa," he said. "This means that food like dumplings, noodles, rice and meat cannot be fully cooked, which is no good for people's health."

To tackle this problem, a company in Xizang joined hands with local research institutions to develop pressure-enhancing cooking utensils. The products under brand names of Snow Lotus and Kelsang Flower have gained 18 Chinese patents for their unique properties to suit plateau conditions.

"There were numerous pressure-enhancing cookers in the world, but none of them can fit well in plateau regions like Xizang, until the Snow Lotus and Kelsang Flower products were launched into the market two years ago," Yan said. He added that more than 840,000 units of the utensils were sold in Xizang and its neighboring regions, basically solving the cooking problem for many families in higher-altitude areas.

The official said the autonomous region has also shown its strength in the digital economy. Xizang has capitalized on its low-temperature, low-pressure and low-humidity environment and low-cost clean energy to develop the highest-altitude green data center in the world, with planned investment of 11.8 billion yuan.

Last year, the autonomous region reported more than 25 billion in the revenue of the digital economy, growing 19 percent from the previous year.

Social progress

With the sustainable growth of the region's economy, Yan said Xizang is in a better position to boost social development in all fronts, including investing in basic infrastructure for livelihoods, improving the quality of life for residents and protecting the environment.

According to the official, all the 74 counties and districts in Xizang got access to the main electricity grids by the end of 2020. In comparison, the number was 40 a decade ago.

He added that the total length of highways now surpasses 120,000 kilometers in Xizang, allowing paved roads to link all the administrative villages in the autonomous region. In addition, an expressway network of 1,105 km has linked five major cities in Xizang.

He took the travel between Lhasa and Nyingchi as an example to illustrate how the local transport sector has developed rapidly. "In the past, travel by car between the two cities — which are less than 500 km apart in a straight line — could take a whole week," Yan said. "After the operation of an expressway in 2019 and a railway in 2021, the travel time is now shortened to 3.5 hours."

With rapid economic development and improving infrastructure, Yan said local residents, especially those in the countryside, have seen substantial improvement in the quality of life.

In 2023, the per capita disposable income of rural residents was nearly 20,000 yuan, which represented a 36.5 percent increase from that in 2020.

Rural residents now have access to better housing, with per capita floor area reaching 41.32 square meters, growing 11.74 sq m from 2012. Many of the rural households now have access to tapped water, heat and gas, according to Yan.

A pristine land

The official said one area that especially makes him, his colleagues and his fellow residents proud of is the protection of, and improvement in, ecological environment.

"Xizang is now on track to develop into'a highland of ecological civilization' for the country and even the world, according to the requirements of the national authorities," Yan said. "This strategic positioning is aimed for Xizang to make a special contribution to the environmental well-being of the whole world."

He cited impressive figures to show that Xizang's sound ecological system is a valuable asset of the nation.

"Xizang now has more than 50 percent of its land dedicated to ecological protection and its nature reserves account for 36 percent of its total land area," Yan said. "It is home to 16.5 percent of water resources, 30 percent of grassland area, 41 percent of glacier area and 18.3 percent wetland area of the whole nation."

He said Xizang remains one of the regions with the best ecological environments in the world and improvement in this field is still going on.

Yan cited the growth in numbers of such wildlife species as the Tibetan antelope. "The lowest number of Tibetan antelopes in Xizang was 30,000 several decades ago," he said. "And now the number has surpassed 300,000."

Wang Xiaodong, head of the Xizang Bureau of Ecology and Environment, said at the news conference that the improving environment is also bringing tangible benefits to locals and tourists as well.

"The unique ecological environment of Xizang, featuring a pristine land with plentiful sunshine, blue skies, spectacular rivers and lakes and snow-covered mountains, proves to be the biggest draw to tourists," Wang said.

He added that environmental protection is also creating jobs and revenue streams for residents in Xizang. "The autonomous region has offered more than 400,000 environmental protection-related jobs for locals and more than 2.2 million rural residents are given subsidies for their efforts in environmental protection."

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