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High noon for Tibet's development

LHASA, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Elderly Tibetans who lived through the vicissitudes of the past six decades often compare the 1951 agreement to the dawning of a new era.

Now in their old age, they are happy to see that their hometowns are on the verge of prosperity.

The central government has pledged to encourage "leapfrog development" and "lasting peace and stability" in Tibet.

By 2020, the per capita net income of farmers and herders in Tibet should be close to the national average level, according to a plan for Tibet's social and economic development announced early last year.

In the short term, the landmark Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world's highest plateau railroad, will also be extended to Nyingchi, an area known for its rich forestry reserves, in the coming five years.

As Tibet's regional government chairman Padma Choling put it, Tibet will follow a growth pattern that "suits its own conditions and gives full play to its advantages."

He expects Tibet to keep up with China's developmental pace in achieving the goal of building a "moderately prosperous society in all respects" by 2020.

"We'll take advantage of our rich mineral, energy, tourism and traditional medicine resources and transform them into driving forces to boost the regional economy," he said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua last week.

The region's land and resources department has predicted that the region's mining industry will contribute some 30 percent to Tibet's gross domestic product by 2020, compared with the current 3 percent.

"However, we will never approve any project that threatens our plateau environment, even if it was a gold mine," said Padma Choling.

The regional government bans highly-polluting, energy-consuming projects such as paper-making factories, as well as iron, steel and chemical plants.

Tibet's economic expansion will rely heavily on tourism.

In its development plan for the coming five years, Tibet aims to draw 15 million visitors each year by 2015, with annual tourism revenues of 15 billion yuan (2.32 billion U.S. dollars).

By then, Tibet will have evolved into a world-class tourist destination, according to the regional tourism bureau.

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