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Economic Development Before Environmental Protection in Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 03/03/011; March 11, 2003.]

by Robert J. Saiget

BEIJING, March 10 (AFP) - China Monday vowed to push ahead with the exploitation of natural resources in the Tibetan Plateau, slamming the efforts of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to better protect the environment.

In a white paper issued on the environmental protection of Tibet, the State Council, China's cabinet, pledged to consider the impact of what is expected to be the unprecedented extraction of mineral resources in the region.

But environmental protection could not be assured unless the impoverished Himalayan region continued to develop economically, it said.

"Ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet cannot be achieved if development steps falter," the paper, carried by the Xinhua news agency, said.

"We cannot refuse any interaction between man and natural eco-environment on the excuse of preserving the fragile primitive natural state, because this will hamper the economic and social development and the improvement of the people's living standard in Tibet."

The white paper laid out efforts to protect Tibet's fragile ecosystem and touched upon issues pertaining to agricultural, grassland, water resources, forestry and desertification.

Although environmental impact assessments would be made on all industrial and hydro-electric projects, little was said about protecting the environment during the mining of Tibet's vast resources.

"The relationship between the exploration and utilization of natural resources and eco-environmental protection must be handled properly in the course of the modernization of Tibet, so as to promote changes in the mode of economic growth," it said.

The paper also slammed the "Dalai Lama clique" and "international anti-China forces" for refusing to acknowledge "ecological improvement and environmental protection work" in Tibet.

"They have spread rumors all over the world that the Chinese government is 'destroying Tibet's ecological environment', 'plundering Tibet's natural resources' and 'depriving the Tibetan people of their rights to subsistence'," it said.

This was done in an effort "to mislead world public opinion and deface the image of China," it said.

At the same time, the white paper admitted that Tibet's ecology was faced with problems and that protecting the environment would be a difficult task.

"Mud-rock flows, landslides, soil erosion, snowstorms and other natural calamities occur frequently in Tibet and desertification is threatening the region's eco-environment, compounded by man-made damage to the ecological environment as Tibet's economy develops," it said.

The paper also guaranteed the environmentally-friendly construction of the 3.14 billion dollar Tibetan railway from Lhasa to Golmud, in Qinghai province.

When finished in 2007 it will link Tibet by rail with the Chinese interior and provide the key transportation source for the extraction of Tibetan resources.

According to "Mining Tibet", a book published in November by the London-based Tibetan Information Network, the railway is central to ambitious plans by the central government to extract resources from Tibet.

"The central authorities remain firmly committed to developing the mineral resources of Tibet to support national development and industrialization," said author Jane Caple.

"The construction of the Golmud-Lhasa railway ... will have a major impact, if completed successfully, on the viability of exploiting the mineral resources of remoter areas of Qinghai (province) along its route and those of the Tibetan Autonomous Region."

Besides the railway, some 1.45 billion dollars has also been allocated for highway building in remote parts of Tibet during the 2001-2005 period, including funds for a four-lane highway to parallel the railroad, it said.

Key Tibetan mining resources include coal, chromite, copper, aluminium, boron, potassium, salt, lead, zinc, and gold.

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