BEIJING — China plans to build the world's highest airport in its Himalayan region of Tibet, at an elevation of nearly 4,500 metres, state media said Tuesday.
Construction of the airport on the so-called "roof of the world" is projected to start next year at a cost of 1.8 billion yuan (about 260 million dollars), the Xinhua news agency said, quoting a local planning official.
The airport will be built in the Nagqu prefecture at an elevation of 4,436 metres (14,639 feet) -- 102 metres higher than Tibet's Bamda facility which since 1994 has been regarded as the world's highest, Xinhua said.
Nagqu, Tibet's biggest prefecture, sits near the middle of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau and is home to a mostly ethnic Tibetan population of about 400,000, the report said.
"With the airport, Nagqu, which is also on the Qinghai-Tibet railway line, is expected to become the centre of an economic hub in the plateau region," Xinhua quoted prefecture commissioner Tan Yongshou as saying.
The airport, to be located about 230 kilometres (140 miles) north of the regional capital Lhasa, will be the sixth in the remote region which has been ruled by China for almost six decades.
Critics of China's rule say new infrastructure such as the recently completed railway and new airports are allowing its ethnic Han majority to flood Tibet, exploit its resources and consolidate political control.
But Beijing has insisted that such projects will raise the standard of living in the remote region.
Xinhua quoted Nagqu economic planner Xu Jian as saying at a parliamentary session in Lhasa that construction would take three years.
"The civil aviation network in Tibet has taken shape. The objective for the next stage of development is to open direct air routes from Tibet to south Asian countries," he added.
China has ruled Tibet since sending in troops in 1951 to "liberate" the region. Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India in 1959 as an uprising failed, and established his government-in-exile in Dharamshala.
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