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Editorial and Op Ed Articles

    Issue 1, June 2003

    Trin-gyi-pho-nya ("Message in the Clouds") is an initiative of Tibet Justice Center's Environment and Development Program to archive and share Tibet's Environment and Development News. We are currently monitoring the status of a major water diversion project on the headwaters of the Yangtze (Drichu) and Yellow (Machu) rivers. Consequently, this maiden issue of Trin-gyi-pho-nya may seem focused on water issues. Future issues will offer more balanced coverage of the issues. We invite articles, opinions, and noteworthy information such as notices of pertinent conferences for publication in Trin-gyi-pho-nya. Tibet Justice Center's Environment and Development Program advocates Tibetan self-determination, specifically the right to control the use of their natural resources, and educates businesses and other groups about Tibetan developmental needs and concerns.

    1. China to Build Nature Reserve Park on the Source of Tsangpo River
    Source: Xinhua (Chinese government-owned), June 4, 2003.

    In the race to build nature reserve parks in Tibet, China has announced its plans to establish yet another ecological protection zone, this time at the source of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River. In the last two decades, China has established more than 70 nature reserve parks inside the Tibet Autonomous Region.

    The announcement was made at a press conference on the status of Tibet's environment in Lhasa on June 4, 2003. According to Chen Xianshun, the Director of the Tibetan Environment Protection Bureau, " [the] ecological protection zone would forbid all human activities which may harm the ecological system." The irony of these conservation efforts is that Tibetan nomads and pastoralists, who have sustained the ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau for centuries, are increasingly viewed as threats to the local ecosystems.

    2. Construction Begins on TAR's Largest Hydro Project
    Source: International Water Power and Dam Construction, June 3, 2003.

    A ceremony on May 19, 2003, is reported to have marked the beginning of construction work for the Zhigung hydroelectric plant, on the Lhasa river in Maizhokunggar (Maidroghungkar) county. The project is expected to take five years to complete; cost US$ 162 million; and generate electric power of over 400 million kWh annually for Lhasa and other cities in central Tibet. Its power station, rated at 100 million Watts, will be fed from a reservoir holding 225 million cubic meters of water. The power station is being described as "Tibet's largest hydro power station." "Tibet" here meaning "Tibet Autonomous Region."

    3. Mugecuo Lake (Megoe Tso) Threatened by Dam Project
    Source: China Youth Daily (run by Youth League of Chinese Communist Party). May 28, 2003. Courtesy of Kevin Li.

    The largest lake in Western Sichuan, Megoe Tso, situated in a scenic area of Ganzi (Kartse) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is reported to be threatened by a 30m-high dam project. Local people, as well as scientists, have expressed serious concerns about the implications of the dam project to the lake and its surrounding scenic ecosystem. The lake, at an altitude of about 4,000m, "nurtures over 1,000 sub-tropical mountainous plants, over 2,000 vertebrata within the humid river valley, over 100 bird species and many other animals, fish and insects, and over 30 species of azalea." The area has become a hot spot for ecologists, zoologists, botanists, geologists and famous photographers from all over the world.

    Critics argue that the government should not allow dam projects in national scenic areas just like National Parks all over the world are protected from any kind of development. The dam is estimated to inundate "about 200,000 ha of ancient forest" and "cause destruction of wetland[s], natural scenery, precious species and depreciation of tourism resources." However, dam planners claim that the project will bring an annual income of up to 70 million yuan to the poor local government. The project, according to dam planners, is to help alleviate the economic problems of the local Tibetan people.

    4. "Who Owns Tibet's Gold?"
    Source: Australia Tibet Council (independent Tibet support group), www.atc.org.au

    "Who Owns Tibet's Gold?" A report released by the Australia Tibet Council exposed plans of Sino Gold Ltd, an Australian mining company, to mine gold at Jinkang in the Tibetan area of Amdo on the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. According to the report, Sino Gold Ltd is currently carrying out exploratory drillings and has plans to invest $AU 27.5 over the next four years. "If a mine goes ahead, Sino Gold would be the first foreign company to mine in Tibet, creating a precedent for other foreign companies to exploit non-renewable resources with negligible benefit to Tibetans."

    Based on the assumption that Tibet's resources belong to its people, this report questions Sino Gold's corporate responsibility ethics in its plans to extract gold in Tibet while Tibetans are unable to exercise their internationally recognized rights, including deciding how their resources should be used.

    On May 19, 2003, an international coalition of human rights and environmental groups called on the Australian mining company to cease all exploration in Tibet until Tibetans are in a position to freely express their wishes about the use of their resources.

    5. 8,000 Tibetans to be Displaced by Chinese Dams
    Source: Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (independent Tibetan NGO), May 12, 2003.

    In a press release on May 12, 2003, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy expressed concerns of the plight of 8,000 local Tibetan inhabitants that will be forcefully displaced in order to construct seven dams in Barkham county of Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province.

    The Center is also concerned about "many holy Buddhist shrines and other age-old landmarks" that are likely to be submerged under the ensuing reservoirs. Places affected include Drakbar, Kyomkyo, Damba, Chuchen, Dzongbud, Tawei, Tsodun, and Kokyab.

    6. Multinational Corporations Involved in Gormo-Lhasa Railway
    Source: China Daily (Chinese government owned).

    In separate reports, two multinational companies are reported to be involved in the construction of the "Qinghai-Tibet railway," more appropriately called the "Gormo-Lhasa railway"-Daewoo Heavy Industries and Machinery Co. Ltd. based in Korea and US based Caterpillar Inc.

    Caterpillar, the world's leading construction machinery maker is reported to have invested US$150 million in China so far, with involvement in "almost every major infrastructure project in China since the early 1980's, including a 4,000-kilometre-long gas pipeline across the nation, the Three Gorges Dam - the world's largest hydropower project-and the Qinghai-Tibet railway." More...

    Daewoo Yantai is reported to be the first and main manufacturer of an excavator that could withstand "the severe conditions" on the Tibetan Plateau and hence "widely used" for the Gormo-Lhasa railway. Daewoo "has started taking part in national projects such as the western development project, the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, the South-North water-diversion project and infrastructure construction for the 2008 Olympic Games to be held in Beijing.

    7. The Yellow River Water Resources Commission Calls for Speeding the Planning Process for the Western Route of the South-North Water Diversion Project
    Source: China Water Resources News (Ministry of Water Resources publication), April 24, 2003. Courtesy of Kevin Li.

    The Yellow River Water Resources Commission's Surveying and Design Institute organized a 17-day long field trip from March 10, 2003, to the areas that will receive water from the Western Route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project. The field trips include visits to villages in Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu and Shaanxi Province. The panel insisted that the western route is an important step to solve the water shortage problem in these areas, and believed that they should speed up the planning process. The first phase of the water diversion project will transfer 4 billion cubic meters of water annually from the headwaters of the Yangtze River into the Yellow River situated on the Tibetan Plateau.

    8. Laogai Hydro-electric Plants in Tibet
    Source: Tibet Information News (independent), April 18, 2003

    Tibet Information Network (TIN) has confirmed the first known political imprisonment in the "Qinghai Hydro-Electricity Installation Factory" (Qinghai Shuidian Shebei Zhizao Chang), a large hydroelectric equipment plant west of Xining in Qinghai (Amdo) province. "One of the prisoners, Lobsang Dargyal, died last November within months of his sentencing, in an army hospital in Xining. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear." The city of Xining, according TIN, has several industrial production sites that are known to use forced labor.
    Read the news article: www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2003/1804.htm.

    9. China Publishes White Paper on "Ecological Improvement and Environmental Protection in Tibet"
    Text of the white paper: http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/44226.html.

    On this year's anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day, March 10, China released its White Paper on the environmental protection efforts undertaken in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Essentially, the white paper claims that China has brought simultaneous economic development (as evidenced by a rise in macro economic indicators such as GDP) and environmental conservation (by measures such as establishment of nature reserve parks, etc.) with a "scientific attitude," thus having achieved sustainable development. To make this point, the white paper is filled with disparate information on different projects and cases. This model of sustainable development continues to exclude the socio-economic, cultural and political aspirations of the Tibetan people.

    10. Debates on Alternatives to the Western Route of South-North Water Diversion Project
    Source: Sichuan Water Power (quaterly journal), Vol. 22, No.1, March 2003. Courtesy of Kevin Li.

    An article on counter-proposals for the Western Route of the South-North Water Diversion project criticizes current plans favored by the Ministry of Water Resources as seriously reducing Sichuan Province's hydropower generation capacity for the future dam cascades on Jinsha (Chinese name for upper Yangtze, or Drichu), Yalong (Ngagchu), and Dadu (Gyarong Ngulchu).
    Two alternative schemes, transferring water from Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) are proposed: west-to-east and west-to-north. The west-to-east proposal transfers water from Bramaputra to the Three Gorges dam, via Nujiang (upper Salween, or Gyalmo Ngulchu), Lancang (upper Mekong, or Zachu), Jinsha and Yalong River, so as to enrich the water sources for eastern and central route projects. The west-to-north proposal transfers water from Bramaputra to Yellow River (Machu), through a number of dam projects on Bramaputra, Salween, Mekong rivers, and a number of tunnels going through the mountains.

    11. Nature Reserve at Sources of Three Major Rivers
    Source: People's Daily (Chinese government-owned), February 2, 2003.

    The Chinese State Council has approved a plan "earlier this year" to establish a huge nature reserve "in a bid to protect the sources of its three major rivers"-the Yellow, the Yangtze and the Mekong rivers. Total area of the headwaters of these three rivers is estimated to be 318,000 sq km in Qinghai Province, and the nature reserve is planned to cover some 152,300 square kilometers, almost half the area. Environmental conservation measures in the reserve include restricting animal farming to a 31,200 sq km area (1/5 the size of the reserve), restoration of vegetation, and conservation of wetlands and wild life habitat. "Intensive drives would be launched to check forest and grassland fires, improve the awareness of locals concerning environmental protection and promote community development."

    12. China Plans Four Hydropower Plants on Drichu
    Source: China West News (online publication: www.chinawestnews.net), February 1, 2003.

    The China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Corporation has announced its plans to build four "huge hydropower stations" along Jinsha (Chinese name for upper Drichu) river. The dams are estimated to have a combined installed capacity of 38.5 million kilowatts, twice as much as the generating capacity of the current world's largest dam project, the Three Gorges Project. The China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Corporation is expected to spend US$ 120 million (1 billion yuan) this year on the project.

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