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AUSTRALIA: Protestors Call for End to Gold Exploration in Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 03/05/22; May 22, 2003.]

ABC Radio Australia Asia/Pacific 20/5/2003

AUSTRALIA: Protestors call for end to gold exploration in Tibet

An Australian mining company has been the target of a demonstration in Sydney today, calling for an end to gold exploration in Tibet. The protestors picketed SinoGold's annual general meeting, calling on the company to stay out of Tibet until the people of the region have control over their own destiny. The Australia-Tibet Council says foreign companies are indirectly supporting human rights abuses while China maintains tight control on the territory its occupied for more than 50 years.

Presenter/Interviewer: Karon Snowdon, Finance correspondent Speakers: Lobsang Lungtuc, Tibetan exile in Australia; Tensing Atisha from the Tibet Information Office in Canberra; Paul Bourke, executive Officer for the Australian Tibet Council (NGO); Nick Curtis, Chair Sino Gold

SNOWDON: Sino Gold is a young company listed on the Australian stock exchange and was the first foreigner to operate its own mine in China.

Its four projects in China have combined gold resources of 2 and a half million ounces, and last year the company made a comfortable profit of almost 7 million Australian dollars.

Its almost dream run though could be ending, it's facing strong opposition to its plans in Tibet, where it's at the exploration stage of a promising gold deposit near Jingkang.

The support group, the Australian Tibet Council wants Sino Gold to restrict itself to China proper and stop its exploration in what used to be Tibet until at least real autonomy is possible for its people.

Paul Bourke is the Executive Officer of the Council and organiser of the protest at the miner's annual general meeting in Sydney.

BOURKE: "The resource belongs to the Tibetan people; it's their future. We believe that it's only a matter of time before the Chinese government and the Tibetan government in exile work out a solution to the Tibetan problem. Now it's not much good for the Tibetan people to gain their autonomy if their resources have all been removed and there's nothing to build their future on, a future of a free Tibet."

SNOWDON: Lobsang Lungtuc from Amdo in South east Tibet, was goaled for more than a year for exercising his right to free speech.

The former political prisoner escaped to India after finding the constant surveillance by Chinese authorities after his release intolerable. He now lives in Australia and supports calls for foreign companies to stay out of old Tibet.

LOBSANG: "I wrote a poem, and it talked about the government and the rest of Tibetan people, and that's why they arrested me.

SNOWDON: For writing a poem, that was enough to get arrested?

LOBSANG: "Oh yes, and they sentenced me to one and a half years for the poem, and they also took my political rights for two years, they still watched over my movements and I felt not comfortable, so it's made it really hard for me to live in Tibet."

SNOWDON: Sino Gold and its Chinese government partner are exploring in Jingkang in the Szechwan province, which Tibetans consider still part of Tibet although it's been excised from the Tibet Administrative Region.

It's one of China's poorest regions - receiving a tiny amount of the billions of dollars in foreign direct investment flowing into China.

Chinese authorities say its Western Development Plan will bring development, prosperity and national unity, along with foreign dollars. It's also accompanied by a large-scale transmigration program bringing in ethnic Chinese settlers.

Tensing Atisha from the Tibet Information Office in Canberra, says he speaks for the Dalai Lama in Australia, when he says foreign investment isn't welcome until the people have more of a say in what type of development should occur.

ATISHA: "I sincerely think it's unethical so I sincerely request all those involved in this gold mining in Tibet not to involve it till the question of Tibet is solved. Other countries, especially Australian mining companies should not be involved in this. I really think you know the companies should think twice because it's not going to benefit the Tibetans, and in fact if they're helping occupying country.

SNOWDON: Paul Bourke from the Australia Tibet Council believes it won't be long before Tibet can make its own decisions, and until then Sino Gold won't be welcome.

BOURKE: Well the Dalai Lama certainly believes it'll happen in his lifetime; there were movements last year to establish direct contact again between the government in exile and the Chinese. The Dalai Lama and the Prime Minister are hoping for a second delegation from the government in exile in May or June this year, so there is some movement. And it seems to us that to get in there now and start removing unrenewable resources really removes the future potential for Tibetans."

PRESENTER: Well Sino Gold Chair Nick Curtis has defended his company's record on environmental issues and community consultation. Mr Curtis says Sino Gold has had no restrictions placed on it by the Chinese and there's already evidence that local Tibetans are benefitting.

CURTIS: "The activities we undertake in that area are such that the community has expressed that they have benefited already. I'll give you a specific example. the partner who has historically had exploration license has under a small mining license undertaken a very small-scale mining development in the region in which we are currently exploring. That development has had a strong negative impact environmentally, particularly through the discharge of materials to the river and the locals have been unhappy about it. We have paid that local partner to desist and we are paying for the remediation required for that, and obviously the local community is delighted to see us doing that."

SNOWDON: Is it your perception or belief that the locals don't want development to go ahead at this stage given the political situation?

CURTIS: "We have had no evidence of that from the local community. We obviously talk to them."

SNOWDON: And you feel that they can express open opinions?

CURTIS: "Well we've had no evidence from the local community that they want anything but development at this stage in the sense that they want the sustainable things that development will bring, that is education, that is health, that is infrastructure, that is access. And so far I have to say the general perception we've had is that that is what the local community is looking for. Now we're a long way away from a mine in this area, let me put that in the context too, but at this point in time given the activities we had and the appropriate consultations we've had, we haven't had any evidence of anything but encouragement from the local community."

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