China rejects criticism of Tibetan resettlement programme

Yaks and yurts...

For centuries, this has been life for Tibetans in China's remote Ngaba prefecture, in Sichuan Province. 14-year old Paldron says her family has a typical summer routine.

"We get up then milk the yaks, then eat, then my mum and older sister go to the mountains to dig for bugs, so the four of us stay here." said Paldron

But, that lifestyle is fading away thanks to a program started by the Chinese government in 2009. Tibetans have long been resentful of China's takeover of Tibet and its iron fist on Tibetan enclaves like Ngaba.

But the government hopes to change that by turning nomads into landowners. 18-year-old Jiahuazeda says he is happy to have traded a yurt for a house.

"Where we lived before was pretty basic. Now living here is pretty comfortable, it's quite cozy." said Jiahuazeda

This is the message China is trying to promote. The government generally restricts access to this area, but it recently organized a PR tour for the media to see the changes here.

Officials have encouraged Tibetans to take advantage of China's booming tourism industry.

Villagers in Chuanpan are cashing in by performing traditional Tibetan dances and selling nick-nacks for busloads of tourists passing through.

Though, some residents complain that urban life is more expensive and not everyone can reap the rewards of tourism.

Activists have expressed concern that China's main aim with this whole program is to control a restive population.

Bai Yingchun, deputy head of Ngaba prefecture's publicity office, says "absolutely nothing was forced" in the resettlement program. He says the masses spontaneously and willingly urbanized.

But Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet, doesn't buy that narrative.

"There's no doubt that it's part of China's overall political objectives of enforcing control. It's much easier to enforce administrative control over settled communities than over nomads in the grasslands, and also the Chinese authorities have aligned the policy with specific political objectives of eliminating separatism and eliminating expressions of Tibetan nationalism." said Saunders

The government rejects criticism that it has repressed Tibetan religious freedom and culture, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.