The new airport is part of Beijing's ongoing plan to encourage development of transportation and other industries in the long-isolated region as a way to promote its economic growth and raise living standards.
Six new railway lines in and around Tibet are in the works, following the opening in 2006 of the final link in a line from Beijing to the capital Lhasa. Critics worry the rush into Tibet could wreck much of the high-altitude region's delicate ecosystem, and an influx of the majority ethnic Han Chinese threatens its Buddhist culture and traditional way of life.
China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and the Communist Party has governed the region since Communist troops arrived in 1951. Tibetans say their territory was essentially an independent theocracy for most of that time. Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, lives with a self-declared government-in-exile in India.