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Tibet 2003: State of the Environment

[Environment and Development Desk; Department of Information and International Relations; Central Tibetan Administration; Dharamsala, India. White Paper, July, 2003]


The Information Office of the People's Republic of China's State Council released its White Paper on Ecological Improvement and Environmental Protection in Tibet (http://english. peopledaily.com.cn/whitepaper/tbpaper/tb1.html) on 10 March 2003 - the 44th anniversary of Tibet's National Uprising Day when Tibetans rose against China's occupation.

In the light of China's new policies of transparency and stressing environmental protection, China's latest white paper might be expected to be an objective and factual report on the state of Tibet's environment. But this white paper is another transparent exercise in propaganda on occupied Tibet. It is evasive over the causes of current environmental crises and the implementation of Beijing's environmental policies.

China's white paper opens with the claim: "For over a half a century, ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet has been an important part of the effort to modernize Tibet." In the West, the 1960s saw the rise of environmental awareness. In China, official environmental policy - and positive laws for the protection of the environment - took off only in the post-reform period, following the death of Mao Zedong.

China's first environmental legislation, the Environmental Protection Law, was introduced in 1979. For Tibet, the disastrous flood of 1998 along China's Yangtze River was the turning point that really brought the need for environmental protection in Tibet to Beijing's attention.

The white paper starts with the standard communist rhetoric on pre-1950 Tibet as having exercised "feudal serfdom" with its "extremely low level of productive forces"; a "state of passive adaptation to natural conditions"; and the impossibility to "discuss the objective law of the ecological environment of Tibet". Beijing cites this allegedly "backward system" as the reason for one-way exploitation of resources and the neglect of the environment in pre-1950 Tibet. Yet, the same report goes on to contradict itself and concludes that the general condition of Tibet's environment today is superior in comparison to China and the rest of the world, because most of the ecosystem remains in its "primordial state". Further, China raises fears that the exile Tibetan community and His Holiness the Dalai Lama want to halt social progress and take Tibet back to "feudal serfdom".

In the concluding section, China's white paper says: "The Dalai Clique and the international anti-China forces shut their eyes to the progress in the ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet... they want really nothing to hamper the social progress and modernization of Tibet and to prepare public opinion for their political aim of restoring the backward feudal serfdom in Tibet and splitting the Chinese nation."

The above fears projected by Beijing are baseless and are used to justify the occupation of Tibet. First, there is no intention on the part of exile Tibetans to "deface" the image of China or to halt social progress in Tibet. Secondly, Tibetans are neither anti-development nor anti-China.

In a little over four decades of surviving in exile, Tibetans - under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama - have embraced democracy totally and have achieved remarkable progress in education compared to the current condition of education in Tibet. Tibetans in exile enjoy universal adult suffrage and have been electing their representatives directly to the Assembly of Tibetan Peoples' Deputies (the exile parliament in Dharamsala) since 1960. In July 2001, in a move towards complete democratisation of the exile community, Tibetans exercised their universal suffrage to elect a Kalon Tripa (Head of the Cabinet) directly for the first time.

These democratic developments are a clear indication that Tibetans in exile and His Holiness the Dalai Lama have no intention whatsoever of reverting to "feudal serfdom" - as China portrays pre-1950 Tibet - and rejecting democracy. We anticipate that Tibetans on the plateau will also be sharing and exercising such rights in the near future.

The Central Tibetan Administration interprets China's white paper on the environment as a sign that the Chinese government is rightly concerned about current ecological and development dilemmas in Tibet. Any initiatives towards improving the quality of the environment and the lives of Tibet's populace are most welcome and much-needed. We profoundly understand that China now faces an uphill task and problematic challenge to repair and protect Tibet's environment whilst introducing sustainable development.

In this respect, both the PRC and the Central Tibetan Administration share the same goals. However, we do have strong reservations over the wisdom and implementation of China's present development policies on the plateau. Major projects relating to dam building and hydropower generation, land reclamation, settling nomads and fencing of grasslands, afforestation, conversion of farmland to grassland and forest, all sound impressive on paper. But experts question whether these policies are well thought through, appropriate and can be beneficial to both China and Tibet longterm. We question:

* Why is there a huge gap between China's environmental policy and its implementation?
* What are the likely social and environmental impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects that are being implemented as part of the PRC's current Tenth Five-Year Plan and the Western Development Program?

No proper social and environmental impact assessments and studies have been published in the case of mammoth projects like the US$ 3.2 billion railway from Gormo to Lhasa, the west-to-east power transfer, west-east gas transfer and south-north water diversion. These infrastructure projects purely to serve China's own development needs raise serious concerns over the PRC's genuine commitment and willingness to improve and protect the environment and implement sustainable development in Tibet.

TIBET 2003: State of the Environment is compiled as an objective analysis of China's latest policies on the environment and development of the Tibetan Plateau. In this report, any reference to Tibet includes all of the 150 counties designated as Tibetan by Beijing and falling within the so-called "Tibet Autonomous Region", Amdo (Ch. Qinghai) and the Tibetan areas now incorporated by China into Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.

China should view this report as offering alternative perspectives addressing environment and development issues across the plateau. The report also draws attention to the latest evidence - from diverse sources - of unsustainable exploitation of Tibet's environmental heritage, especially its water resources, sacred lands, agricultural soil and mineral resources, while population densities escalate beyond the carrying capacity of the fragile plateau. Beijing's policy of population transfer to the plateau is made viable only through unsustainable external inputs, including billions of yuan in direct subsidies each year, and the subsidised transportation of consumer goods manufactured in the Mainland.

This colonialist policy has created two distinct economies in Tibet today. One is centred on the urban and resource extraction enclaves that are heavily subsidised, capital intensive, and dominated by a non-Tibetan populace. The other is based upon the predominantly ethnic Tibetan rural economy which is starved of capital and State support, still subsistence-based in the 21st century, and deprived of the social services concentrated in urban areas.


[Source: Used with permission from Environment and Development Desk. Department of Information and International Relations; Central Tibetan Administration; Dharamsala, India.]

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