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Resettlement and Urban Reconstruction in Former World Bank Project County

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/02/17; February 17, 2002.]

TIN News Update / 14 February 2002 / ISSN: 1355-3313

Major reconstruction looks set to take place in the closest urban centre to the area of Qinghai where thousands of poor migrant farmers are to be resettled under an ambitious Chinese state project that was originally to be funded by the World Bank. According to an eyewitness report from late last year, virtually every building lining the long main street in Xiangride town in Tulan (Chinese: Dulan) county, including relatively new, multi-storey structures, is prominently marked with the Chinese character "chai" indicating impending demolition. The scale of the proposed demolitions indicates that the authorities are intending to create an entirely new townscape to serve as an economic and administrative centre for an enlarged population in the county. China appears to have accelerated the pace of the resettlement project in Tulan since it withdrew its request for World Bank funding in July 2000.

In July 2000 China rejected World Bank conditions and withdrew its request for a $40 million loan for the controversial project, which involves the resettlement of nearly 58,000 poor farmers, less than 10% of whom are Tibetan or Mongol, from eastern Qinghai into a traditionally Tibetan and Mongolian area of Qinghai province incorporating Xiangride town. Beijing then announced it would carry out the project "in its own way", according to China's World Bank Executive Director Zhu Xian (7 July 2000). Western journalists who visited Qinghai on a press trip in summer 2001 were told by the provincial vice-governor Bai Ma that the first batch of 20,000 people would be resettled in the area within three years.

According to a report in the Qinghai Daily on 10 August, China aims to have the "main part" of the project completed by the end of 2002 and the main "construction tasks" finished within two years. The original projected schedule by the World Bank was for the completion of a reservoir and roads by 2003, electric grid by 2004, irrigation scheme by 2005 and resettlement by 2006 (World Bank Project Appraisal, 1 June 1999). An accelerated project implementation schedule could mean that the authorities will have to make certain compromises in order to save time and money. One key area of concern for the World Bank Inspection Panel that investigated the project in 1999 - 2000 was potential damage to the environment.

In its report of 28 April 2000, the Inspection Panel concluded: "Given the scale of absolute habitat conversion in the Project area, involving 19,000 hectares of land that will be irrigated, and construction developments such as the dam, canals, townships, villages and roads - all adding up to an estimated 21,444 hectares - it cannot be asserted with confidence that possible critical natural habitats will not be lost."

The demolition of the main area of the town of Xiangride is likely to be an important part of the ambitious and accelerated development plans in Tulan county. The provincial government aims to develop further an agricultural ba se and an infrastructure in the area, enabling it to exploit the rich mineral resources of Qinghai, which include petroleum, natural gas, asbestos, salt, potash, lead and zinc. The major Chinese resource extraction zone in the Qaidam (Tib: Tsaidam) Basin further west, where oil and gas, salt and potash and other minerals are removed and processed for use in China's energy, plastics, petrochemicals and fertiliser industries needs supplies of fresh food, grains and other basic necessities to sustain an immigrant workforce in an arid area. The Xiangride oasis area, which was first cultivated by Mongols and Tibetans due to its favourable natural conditions, is one of the closest centres of grain production to this area. The resettlement project that was formerly to be funded by the World Bank accords closely with Chinese policies that aim to recharacterise regional habitation and development patterns. Funding of the resettlement project by the World Bank would have set a precedent, providing support of Chinese demographic restructuring and development aims by an international institution.

The implementation of the resettlement project will have a substantial impact on the population and ethnic mix of Xiangride and its surrounding area. In his statement to Western journalists last year, the Qinghai provincial vice-governor Bai Ma provided no specific information on the ethnic "mix" of the people to be resettled in Tulan county, the "move-in" area, although he said that it contained "a number" of "minority peoples". The World Bank "Summary Paper" issued in summer 1999 showed that about 52% of the total of poor farmers due to be resettled were from three "minority groups", the Hui (Chinese Muslim), Tu and Salar [note (1)]. Han Chinese would account for 42% and Tibetans about 6%; there were no Mongols in the proposed move-in group.

The same World Bank paper reported that the existing population in Tulan County (52,669) was about 53% Chinese (Han), 23% Tibetan, 14% Mongol, 7% Hui, 1.5% Salar and 1.0% Tu. These levels, presumably reported to the World Bank by their Chinese counterparts, and which do not include the considerable number of mostly Chinese prisoners in labour camps (laogai), contrast unexpectedly with official 1990 census data. Nearly a decade before the Bank issued its Summary Paper, Tulan's official population was higher (56,090), with more Chinese (60%) and less Tibetan (19%). The change is mostly accounted for by a drop of nearly 17% in the county's reported Han population (from about 33,636 in 1990 to 27,977 in the Bank's paper). That Tulan's overall population as well as Chinese population were both decreasing during the decade while the Tibetan population increased is inconsistent with the economic and developmental boom which dominated the 1990s, and may signify the tendency of statistics to be shaped by factors other than full or accurate disclosure of data.

The proposed in-migration of nearly 58,000 farmers, more than 90% of whom were to be non-indigenous under the World Bank plan, will more than double the county's population. If the ethnic breakdown of the immigrants remains the same as the original World Bank plan, the percentage of Tibetans will be reduced to 9.2% and Mongols to 5.9% as the Tulan population rises to more than 110,000. The Tibetan and Mongolian population of the area will probably be diluted further by the increased influx of new settlers that is likely to result from the development of Xiangride and other towns in the area. The Chinese authorities have emphasised that the Tulan county resettlement project proposed by the World Bank is a suitable model for future development in the province.

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