Tibet: Environment and Development Issues
[Environment and Development Desk; Department of Information and International Relations; Central Tibetan Administration; Dharamsala, INDIA. April 26, 2000.]
Article 1, UN Declaration on the Right to Development, 4 December 1986.
The socio-economic situation in Tibet is on par with some worst areas in the third world. While the specific needs of the Tibetan people in Tibet may vary from region to region, all Tibetan communities are disadvantaged. We therefore encourage the involvement of the international community in sustainable development and prodective investment in all regions inhabited by Tibetans. Despite living in economically and socially depressed conditions, Tibetans have attempted to build schools, monasteries, initiate development projects and develop their own enterprises (such as textile, carpet, handicraft manufacturing, dairy and grain processing). But it has been difficult for the majority of Tibetan communities to benefit from and expand these projects because they have received little or no assistance from the Chinese government, and they have very limited access to capital. Furthermore, rural infrastructure is very poor and prohibits development.
By providing the resources necessary for the Tibetans to be actively involved in their own development, and to become business and civic leaders in their communities. International organisations and individuals can play a critical role in empowering the Tibetan people to become self-sufficient and to protect Tibet’s unique way of life.
Ever since 1949, even though the Chinese government initially made some efforts to improve the standard of living of the Tibetan people, China’s development strategy was largely geared towards imposing the People’s Liberation Army-led administrative superstructure, and later, towards assimilating Tibet into the People’s Republic of China.
From 1950 until 1979, economic and structural measures such as co-operatives and communes were introduced in Tibet. These measures disregarded Tibetan culture and traditions: nomads were forced to be sedentary farmers; pasturelands became arable lands; winter wheat replaced native barley (Tibet’s staple foodcrop); and huge state taxes were imposed to achieve unreasonable regional production targets. All these measures resulted in declining productivity, the degradation of grassland, and foodgrain shortages unknown in the history of Tibet.
The then Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, recognised this decline in conditions of the Tibetan people at the First Work Forum on Tibet in 1980. As a result, the Household Responsibility System (HRS) was introduced, reversing the policies of the previous 30 years. By the end of 1982, decollectivisation was implemented and more social and religious freedom was granted in Tibet. Living conditions began to improve as the revenue and taxation systems were decentralised.
However, the positive impact of the HRS was short-lived because the emphasis was placed on Tibet’s integration with China rather than on local self-sufficiency. Tibet was providing China’s rich coastal region with energy, minerals and timber. In return, Tibet was receiving Chinese “skilled” settlers who brought “technical, managerial and business skills” to the region and helped open Tibet’s market for Chinese manufactured goods. This massive influx of Chinese settlers further marginalised the Tibetan people, economically and socially.
In 1984 the Chinese government initiated 43 development projects, following up with 62 additional projects in 1994. These projects aimed to “develop the Tibetan economy and society” in Central Tibet. However, these initiatives did not result in the development of any significant Tibetan-run projects. Instead they have mainly benefited Chinese urban dwellers and strengthened China’s control over Tibet. For example, the projects initiated in 1984 alone brought 60,000 Chinese into Tibet, causing 30,000 Tibetans from 18 work units to lose their jobs. Rural areas in Tibet still have no access to electricity, education, healthcare and safe drinking water facilities.
The priority of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile is for the Tibetan people to be able to achieve their optimum economic and cultural potential. Thus, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has sought to enter into negotiations with the Chinese government in order to achieve a settlement, which would grant Tibetans genuine autonomy within the framework of the People’s Republic of China.
As a political solution to Tibet is being pursued, international aid and development agencies, as well as investors, can and should be involved in raising the standard of living for the Tibetan people and in assisting Tibetans to become self-reliant.
Given the vast needs of the Tibetan people, we would like to highlight the following priorities for international development and investment programmes in Tibet:
With international development assistance and investment, the Tibetan people have the potential to become economically self-sufficient and to preserve their unique way of life. While their needs are great, coordinated international involvement can have a major impact on Tibetans’ standard of living. We strongly believe that the Tibetan people must be intricately involved in their own development. They must be consulted at all project stages and be allocated key roles in the design, implementation and supervision of projects.
We encourage international development agencies to coordinate and cooperate with each other by sharing information and resources. Furthermore, we encourage those who are interested in helping Tibetans inside Tibet to seek the views of the Tibetan people, particularly His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the TGIE. For obvious reasons, any formal involvement of the Tibetan leadership in exile may not be acceptable. However, it is critical that the views of the Tibetan people, and the exile leadership, be taken into full consideration. This will ensure that the Tibetans are the primary beneficiaries of development and investment in Tibet and that they will have the ultimate say in their own development.
Lastly, we encourage agencies and individuals interested in helping Tibetans in Tibet to keep the TGIE apprised of their activities, progress and difficulties.
We request that all individuals and agencies working in Tibet make efforts to ensure that their participation in Tibet does not:
a) Deplete natural resources; with little or no benefit to the Tibetan people.
b) Facilitate the erosion of Tibetan culture and traditions.
c) Facilitate the migration and settlement of non-Tibetans into Tibet.
d) Negatively affect the sustainability of Tibet’s ecosystems.
e) Transfer ownership of Tibetan land and natural resources to non-Tibetans.
f) Operate projects without the participation of affected Tibetans.
g) Facilitate large-scale, capital intensive, and commercial projects.
Environment & Development Desk, Department of Information & International Relations, Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala-176215 H.P. India. Tel: +91-1892-22510/22457/24662; Fax: +91-1892-24957; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.tibet.com
1 Tibet comprises the three provinces of Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang (called Cholka-sum by Tibetans), with a total area of 2.5 million sq. km. It includes the present day Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai and other Amdo areas incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, and major parts of Kham taken by Sichuan and Yunnan. China today acknowledges only the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (1.2 million sq. km) founded in 1965 as "Tibet."
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