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Rights Groups Turn up Heat on BP on Tibet Pipeline

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 00/12/08; Deceber 8, 2000.]

BEIJING, Dec 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) A broad coalition of Tibet, human rights and environmental groups turned up the heat on British oil giant BP Amoco on Friday over its investment in a Chinese oil firm building a pipeline on traditional Tibetan land.

The coalition of 54 groups, including Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, movie star Richard Gere and Adam Yauch of the rock band Beastie Boys, urged BP Amoco to use its influence to halt construction of the pipe through Qinghai province. If no results were achieved by January 15, the group would start a public campaign urging BP Amoco to withdraw its investment in Chinese state oil major PetroChina, the coalition said in a letter to BP Amoco Chief Executive John Browne.

The letter is the latest blow in a campaign against BP Amoco as Tibet activists turn their attentions to multinational corporations and lending agencies following a successful campaign against a World Bank loan to resettle poor Chinese farmers on traditionally Tibetan land. Previously, the activists had operated largely on a separate basis. "As the top investor in PetroChina, BP is profiting from China's pillaging of Tibet's natural resources and the consolidation of Chinese control in the region," said John Ackerly, president of the International Campaign for Tibet. Half a century after Chinese troops invaded Tibet, Beijing is throwing open what it calls its "Western treasure house" of natural resources to try to absorb the remote Himalayan region into the mainstream Chinese economy.


The 950-kilometer (590-mile) gas pipeline from Sebei in Qinghai to Lanzhou in neighboring Gansu province passes through land inhabited by ethnic Tibetans that activists claim was Tibetan territory prior to the invasion. China says the 2.5 bian ($302 million) project will create jobs, improve infrastructure and help redistribute wealth. But the coalition argues it would lure more Chinese settlers, upset the delicate ecosystem and deplete natural resources with little benefit for locals.

BP Amoco paid $578 million for 20 percent of a stock offer by PetroChina, which listed in New York and Hong Kong in April, but says it did not invest directly in the pipeline. In a recent interview, the firm's top executive in China declined to say whether the firm had raised concerns with PetroChina over the project, which was nearly completed. "What we say to all of our partners is that it is important to have policies and standards about health, safety and the environment," Gary Dirks, president and chief executive of BP China, told Reuters. "It's important to be sensitive to community issues." "What I don't do is attempt to imply in any sense that they don't have a right to be out there and they don't have a right to be doing this development because there is no basis on which I can argue that."


The coalition said BP's claim it had no interests in Tibet was "disingenuous and evasive" and the firm had taken no concrete action in six months of talks with Tibet support groups. "BP is conducting a massive PR campaign holding itself out as a good corporate citizen, but Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs in China are getting a different message," Ackerly said in a statement. "Put simply, BP has yet to explain how it can partner with China in exploiting oil from occupied lands while respecting human rights."

The Dalai Lama, who has run his government in exile in northern India since he fled there in 1959, has said investments in oil and gas projects in Tibet are harmful to Tibetans and called on BP Amoco to withdraw investments from PetroChina. He is also urging Italian oil firm Agip and U.S. energy company Enron to withdraw investments from firms engaged in oil and gas projects in Tibetan areas.

BP Amoco has so far invested $2.5 billion in projects in China and another $1.0 billion by taking stakes in Chinese companies, according to Dirks. It bought just under 14 percent of a stock offer by China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (Sinopec), which started trading in Hong Kong and New York last month. Sinopec holds the rights to Tibet's Lunpola field, the world's highest oil field, according to Tibet activists.

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