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China Outlines its Position on Environment

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/03/12; March 12, 2003.]

(ABC Radio Australia - Asia/Pacific 11/3/2003)

China's parliament, the National People's Congress, has issued a white paper on the environmental protection of Tibet. The Chinese cabinet released the paper on the 44th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising, when tens of thousands died and many more driven into exile, including the Dalai Lama. The white paper laid out efforts to protect Tibet's fragile eco-system that could only progress if the autonoumous region continued to develop economically.

Presenter/Interviewer: Tom Parker

Speakers: Thubten Samphel, Secretary of the Department of Information and International Relations for the Tibetan government in exile, Dharamsala; Tehnzin Atisha, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's representative in Australia; David Harper, Technical Director, at Environmental Resource Managements in Shanghai

PARKER: Tibet holds a strong utpoian image in Western minds as the fabled Shangri La, an inaccessable place of natural beauty. When China assummed control in 1951, it saw Tibet as a feudal backwater that needed liberating. Buddhist monastries made way for mining, forests were felled and serfs were freed to form communes.

SAMPHEL: The Chinese Government considers Tibet to be a treasure house, mainly for the basic reason that there are so many untapped natural resources in Tibet.

PARKER: Thubten Samphel, Secretary of the Department of Information and International Relations for the Tibetan government in exile based in Dharamsala describing China's interest in Tibet's natural resources.

This week, on the forty fourth anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, the State Council issued a white paper outlining the government's environmental accomplishments in Tibet.

The 33 page policy document considered the environmental impact of a planned massive extraction of mineral resources in the Tibetan plateau. Tehnzin Atisha, the Dalai Lama's representative in Australia, who previously headed the government in exile's environmental and development desk, says there's a wealth of resources that China has its eyes on.

ATISHA: More than 125 different minerals are found, so now the Han Chinese, they are trying to exploit it and according to the Chinese statistics, I can recall that the largest deposit of uranium is there in Tibet

PARKER: The ambitious Golmud-Lhasa railway, which will connect the remote autonomous region with China's Western Qinghai province, is central to the government's plans to extract natural resources from Tibet.

Thubten Samphel from the government in exile also has concerns about the physical impact the railway will have on Tibet.

SAMPHEL: It can sustain, you know, so many people and not more, so if the railroad is used as a means to facilitate the tranportation of many Chinese settlers into Tibet, this I think will have a major negative impact on Tibetan environment.

PARKER: However, Chinese government officials have been keen to point out the depth of environmental safegaurds written into the 3 billion US dollar project, including train carraiges equipped with a closed sewage and waste treatment system.

These measures are part of a wider government agenda aimed at making China's industrial projects more environmentally accountable says David Harper, Technical Director, at Environmental Resource Managements in Shanghai.

HARPER: As far as transperancy is concerned, there is a new environmental impact assessment law that will come into force in September this year, which will include an increased amount of public innvolvement and dissementation.

PARKER: The government's white paper suggested that 'ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet cannot be achieved if development falters,' In other words, Tibet's environmental protection is at the mercy of economic development, the very thing that is likely to cause it the most harm.

Apart from this apparent conflict, the environment is increasingly important to the Chinese government for obvious reasons according to David Harper

HARPER: There is obviously a huge will at a very senior level of government to actually get things moving on this front. Its seen as something that is actually holding back development because it is actually wasting resources.


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