With the trial operation of freight trains on the Qinghai-Tibet railway line completed in March and the whole line was tested on July 1, some experts predict that a Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Economic Belt will be established along the line and become a driver of the economy in the whole region.
The total area of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is 2.9 million square km. Of this 2.5 million square km is in Chinese territory and accounts for one quarter of the whole land area of the country. It covers Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, part of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and part of Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
As the central focus of China's Western Development Strategy, the plateau has abundant mineral resources, agricultural products, livestock, Tibetan medicines and tourism.
The completion of Qinghai-Tibet Railway will expand western transportation links and bring Tibet into the national railway network. This would result in the establishment of an economic belt on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, suggested Wang Daiyuan, a researcher in Economic Strategy Research Center of Social Sciences Academy of Tibet Autonomous Region.
The magnificent scenery on the plateau and simply the views are huge attractions for tourists from both home and abroad. With Xining and Lhasa, the capital cities of Qinghai and Tibet respectively at either end of the line, numerous famous spots of historical and natural interest can be viewed from the train. These include Ta'er Monastery, Mt. Sun and Moon, Qinghai Lake, Birds Island, Mt. Kunlun, Hol Xil Nature Reserve and Potala Palace.
With the railway, the cost of getting to Tibet will be greatly reduced. Experts are predicting that the train journey to Tibet will become a new travel highlight in the later half of this year. After 2007, it's estimated that 2.1 million tourists will visit Tibet. And it seems likely the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will become one of the world's top tourist attractions.
It's planned that the Dunhuang Railway which started operation in December 2005 will connect with the Qinghai-Tibet Railway at Golmud. Tourist industry insiders have observed that this will connect Potala Palace with the Silk Road and has the potential to become a new golden tourist route in west China.
According to Vice Governor of Qinghai Ma Peihua, developing the tourist industry around the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau can enrich and upgrade various types of tourism products and give fresh momentum to China's development of the industry. Tourism was important in promoting all-round development of local economies as well as providing stability and prosperity in ethnic regions.
Moving away from tourism, the reserves of boron, lithium and cesium in salt lakes on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau account for 10 percent, 12 percent and 26.7 percent respectively of world reserves. Kalium reserves account for about 14 percent of the national total. The potential value of mineral resources within this "Resource corridor" in northern Tibet is estimated to be 6 trillion yuan (US$750 billion).
The Tibetan academic, Dorjee, of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, has suggested that focus be given to mineral resource exploration as well as protection of the environment on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The level of environmental damage caused by mineral resources exploration had to be kept to a minimum, he said.