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China Oil Slippery in Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 00/10/25; October 25, 2000.]

By Lynne O'Donnell in Beijing

The Australian

BEIJING, October 25, -- AS China's Government promotes plans to exploit the oil resources of the Tibetan Plateau, international opposition to the involvement of global corporations in potentially disastrous projects is gathering force.

Beijing's push to the vast and impoverished west aims to harness resources essential for the future modernisation of China's economy so growth rates of the eastern seaboard can be sustained.

Already, the giants of global energy are lining up for a slice of what promises to be a big pie under China's plans to exploit the massive oil reserves of Tibet. But the potential to destroy the delicate ecology of the plateau and displace the already underprivileged Tibetan population has led to a backlash among China's neighbours and reinvigorated international environmental and pro-Tibet campaigners.

Supporters of the Dalai Lama's government in exile are focusing on plans to build a natural gas pipeline 935km from Sebei, in Qinghai, to Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province.

The 2.5 billion yuan ($569 million) pipeline is one of 10 projects in Beijing's Great Western Development program, which the Government says will create jobs, improve infrastructure and help redistribute wealth.

Opponents, however, argue that it will speed up settlement of Chinese on lands traditionally occupied by Tibetan and Mongolian nomads, and that past patterns of such progress show that the indigenous people generally are marginalised from economic development.

"When you try to develop areas based on resource extraction, it just turns them into colonies," an International Campaign for Tibet spokesman said.

The Tibetan government in exile has called for the immediate cessation of the exploration and exploitation plans.

"These projects, as they are now conceived, will cause harm to the Tibetan people," the government in exile said. "Projects that adversely affect Tibetan society and environment must be immediately stopped and redesigned or cancelled."

As is often the case in areas populated by China's minorities, little is being done in the way of impact studies - on either the indigenous population or the ecosystem.

The success of a campaign against World Bank funding for a project to move Chinese farmers on to Tibetan lands in Qinghai has encouraged environmentalists and pro-Tibetan activists to lobby against the involvement of global corporations in such projects.

Oil giants BP Amoco, Shell, Agip and Exxon Mobil are being targeted. In recent months, BP Amoco, Shell and Exxon Mobil have poured a total of $US3 billion into Chinese oil companies in a bid to secure a foothold in the development of the industry.

Activists are now shining a spotlight on the use these funds are being put to, and in the process are doing some potential damage of their own to companies that have invested heavily in improving their public images.

"We have the ability to hold companies to their commitments on the environment and human rights," the Tibet campaign spokesman said.

BP Amoco has been forced to defend itself over criticism that its $US620 million ($1.2 billion) investment in China's biggest oil refiner, PetroChina, is equal to the money the operator needs for the Sebei-Lanzhou gas pipeline.

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