In China, central government subsidies to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) – the archetypal case usually referred to as ‘Tibet’ – have surged to record-high levels, particularly following the widespread protests that occurred across all Tibetan areas in 2008. By 2010, direct budgetary subsidies surpassed one hundred percent of the TAR GDP for the first time ever, exceeding even the levels reached during the peaks of subsidization during the Maoist period and amounting to four times the average per capital rural household income in the TAR. Similarly, investment in fixed assets – most of it also probably subsidised – reached 91 percent of the TAR GDP in 2010.
From this perspective and despite almost twenty years of intensive development efforts, the TAR remains locked into the institutional norms guiding the subsidisation of this politically-sensitive autonomous region since the Maoist period. As a result, recent development strategies have not altered in any significant way the long-term trend of very intense and very inefficient subsidisation, with economic growth largely reflecting the intensification of subsidies. In particular, the recent phase of intensive subsidisation has completed two principal tasks first envisaged during the Maoist era. One is the state-led engineering of a deep integration of the region into China through externalized patterns of ownership and extreme economic dependence. The second is the consolidation of the very visible hand of the state in the structuring of most aspects of the economy, including the rural economies, albeit through a different mode of governmentality attuned to the current era of ‘market socialism’ rather than Maoist collectivisation.
As a result, the economy of the TAR can be aptly described in structural terms as having become a peripheral subsidiary of the central government and related interests. Local development dynamics (and people) are increasingly captive to the discretion of these central interests, particularly in the context of their rapid transition away from their traditional bases of subsistence in the rural economy.