Editorial and Op Ed Articles
By Tashi Tsering
In a remarkable precedent-setting meeting of Chinese leaders last month in Wuhan (capital city of Hubei Province), provincial governors and key ministers from different sectors such as water, environment, forest, and agriculture gathered to develop a common strategy and action plan for protecting the Yangtze River (Drichu in Tibetan, “Changjiang” in Chinese) within a river basin framework of management. From an environmental policy perspective, this high level discussion of Chinese leaders – the “Yangtze Forum” – to integrate the agendas of different government agencies, in order to manage the river within its natural boundary, is indeed refreshing news.
States around the world, especially in rapidly developing countries like China, find the task of sustainable management of resources difficult because of the compartmentalized and autonomous nature of government agencies. This is exacerbated by states’ contradictory responsibilities of being both the developer and protector of the environment. As such there is often the bias toward the development agencies which usually are more far powerful and often overrun the efforts of those who are charged with the task of environmental protection. Such is the case in the management of the Yangtze River.
The headwaters of the Yangtze has been designated as a “state-level protected nature reserve,” to such a degree that the government began, in 2004, to forcibly relocate 40,000 Tibetans in an effort to make “core areas” of the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers into a “non-human zone” by 2009. However, this desperate, undemocratic effort by the Chinese government to protect the river is scheduled to be shattered by the dam building agenda of some of its own agencies – powerful bureaucracies like Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Machine Building and Ministry of Construction. Work preparatory to building some of the world’s tallest dams in lands of ethnic Tibetans, who have been relocated in the name of environmental protection, is already underway. One dam is planned on the Ngagchu (Yalong River) with a height of 175 meters, another on the Thogthon Chuwo (Tongtianhe in Chinese) with a height of 302 meters, and a third on the Gyarong Ngulchu ( Daduhe in Chinese) with a height of 296 meters – with an overarching goal of diverting water into central China.
In China, the need for an integrated river basin management system, whereby the voices of all the legitimate stakeholders are balanced, is particularly pressing given the severe water shortages, pollution problems, and the increasing number of massive protests by dam relocatees and by farmers over water for irrigation. A representative system of resource management is increasingly recognized as the legitimate approach to sustainable development around the world.
The Chinese leaders of the Yangtze Forum, who are concerned with the legitimacy of their work, should include the voices of leaders of the otherwise disenfranchised communities, like upstream Tibetans, in the discussion of the issues in order to demonstrate their concern for just water governance and should not let this auspicious initiative become yet another exercise in bureaucratic greenwashing.
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China’s Development Of My Fatherland: Progress Or Destruction?
By Palden Kyab*
As an overseas free Tibetan, I wish to express my views on the negative developments in the guise of economic progress that is sweeping my fatherland, Tibet. China’s colonial exploitation of Tibet extends beyond the simple exploitation of Tibet’s resources because it is inseparable from the injustices perpetrated upon her people. Therefore, I request all people with a sense of global human responsibility and of care for mother nature to help mitigate the environmental degradation as a step toward the simultaneous goal of halting the human injustice.
Tibetans have always had a close relationship with nature – respecting and preserving nature is a principle theme of Buddhism. Through the Buddhist prism of interdependence, Tibetans believe that the environment in which we live sustains our existence. We believe that there are other sentient beings – animals and invisible sentient beings such as “Lha” (gods) and “Lu” (naga’s) – that live around us, sharing the same environment. If we are not careful with our treatment of nature, we might unintentionally hurt these sentient beings. As a result, respecting nature became a part of traditional Tibetan livelihood; it is largely due to our devotion to Dharma, which is based on “Jhangchup Sem” (Boddhicitta) or compassion towards all other sentient beings. Not only is the environment at large protected, but also the precious minerals accumulated by natural forces are left unexploited.
Today, while the environment of Tibet is being indiscriminately damaged, the Tibetan people and the animals on the plateau are facing danger of extermination by the profit-driven Communist China. In fact, Tibet’s vast land and unexploited rich natural resources are key factors that lured China to invade Tibet. China’s hunger for timber, for example, led to official destruction of Tibetan forests, especially in eastern Tibet (northern Yunnan and western Sichuan provinces). Trucks loaded with old-growth timber were shipped to China day and night for decades until the logging ban that was imposed after the 1998 Yangtze flood in China. Today, mountains are barren without any trees. Nomadic and semi-nomadic people, and farmers in particular, suffer famine in many different rural areas. Rainfall has become more scant, and natural rainfall patterns have changed due to drastic man-made changes to the environment.
After decades of searching for precious minerals like gold and copper, China has now begun large-scale exploitation with the help of foreign technology and capital. This is causing tremendous destruction of the whole landscape of Tibet. Soil erosion, poorer pasture for animals, landslides, and other drastic changes in the environment are forcing some villages to migrate to other places. In addition to deforestation and mining, there is another growing menace to the fragile ecosystems of Tibet – Chinese pharmaceutical companies’ hunger for Tibetan medicinal plants. The commercialization of Tibetan medicine not only endangers the sustainable harvesting of rare medicinal plants but is also contributing to major soil erosion and landslides.
China’s recent rush to develop the west regions (Go West! campaign) and the construction of the railway line from Golmud to Lhasa, not only pose environmental problems but also create problems for local Tibetans such as forced relocation and uncompensated land use for the railway line, and so on. Who knows what kind of environmental problems will arrive once the railway service is in full service? Will China be able to prevent railway passengers from throwing garbage like plastics and cans? Will China be able to stop pollution of the oxygen-sparse air of Tibet? Will China listen, let alone compensate local Tibetans for the exploitation of their lands?
*[Palden Kyab is a student at Berea College, Kentucky. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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