China’s Go West Campaign and Globalisation: Tibet’s mines up for sale in the international market
Dharamsala 20 January 2005: China’s Go West campaign, officially announced as another massive campaign to reduce the widening income gap between China’s rich eastern coastal provinces and western hinterland, is taking its toll on the natural resource base of China’s Western region.China’s Ministry of Land and Resources has prioritised the shifting of mineral industry to western region and is increasingly trying to woo foreign investment in the exploitation of mineral resources in the western region. A special investigative report of the Mineral Resources law presented on October 26 2002 identified seven major problems confronting China’s mining industry and has recommended the restructuring of the mining industry to improve efficiency, garner foreign investment and environmental safety measures. A review of the Mineral Resources Law has been initiated in 2003 and the review will take effect likely in two to three years. In 2003 alone China reported the selling of 11,717 prospecting and mining rights through bids, auctions and other public means.
In recent developments related to Tibet’s mineral resources, foreign-based junior mining companies mainly from Canada and Australia have announced their intention and plans to explore and eventually mine gold and copper in Tibet. Two Canadian based companies have entered into an “option agreement”, which according to our knowledge might not be recognised by the Chinese law. It nevertheless highlights the keenness on part of minor mining companies to get a foothold in China in anticipation of opening of the China’s mining industry. It appears that these companies have not paid attention at all to the risks involved in working in Tibetan areas. The mining sites falls within the so-called autonomous areas, inhabited mainly by Tibetan minorities, and are characterised by ecologically fragile and mountain environment. Some of the mining sites will occur at places as high as 4,000m above sea level, plan to use the longest running river in Tibet, Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) which support the bread basket of Central Tibet, and one of the holiest lake of Tibet, the Yamdrok Yumtso, where a hydro power station has been built with total disregard to the local Tibetan sentiments and the environmental implications of such project. A gold mine project is being proposed in the Tibetan nomadic area of Chumarleb in Yushu Prefecture, which falls within the environmentally sensitive area around the headwaters of Machu (Yellow River).
The following three projects, that involve foreign investment and participation in Tibet’s mines, are of particular concern to the Central Tibetan Administration. We would like to urge the above concerned companies to reconsider their involvement in these projects on moral and environmental grounds as World Bank, BP Amoco and SinoGold did after a careful study of the current reality inside Tibet.
- Nagartse (Ch: Nagarze) Gold mine, a joint venture between Orchid Capital Limited based in Australia (70%) and the China Tibet Institute of Geological Survey (30%).
- Shethongmon (Xietongmen) Gold and copper mine, “option agreement” between China Net TV Holdings Inc. and Continental Minerals Corporation, both based in Vancouver, Canada.
- Dachang Gold Mine, (located in Chumarleb county in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) a joint venture between Inter-Citic based in Canada (87%) and Qinghai Geological Survey Institute (17%).
The Central Tibetan Administration is deeply concerned that the increased mineral extraction activities would have large adverse social and environmental impacts in the Tibetan Plateau and further beyond. Apart from being the source of major rivers of China and rest of Asia, the Tibetan Plateau is regarded by many as having direct and indirect impacts on the local and global climatic changes. The fact that most of these mining would happen in an environment which is not only vulnerable and fragile, but plan to use Tibet’s rivers and lakes which have both ecological and cultural importance is worrisome and threatening.
China today admits deep concerns about the environmental degradation that has occurred due to past rampant and unchecked economic growth. The Tibetan Plateau is one region today which relative to rest of mainland China is in a better state. China faces a tough choice between economic growth and environmental protection. However, in the case of the Tibetan Plateau, it is sad to see that the concerned authorities have failed to see the environmental costs from mining and its aftermath in a vulnerable and fragile ecosystem for short-term economic gain. It would be wise to listen to what a former director of Environmental Protection Bureau in Tibet Autonomous Region had to say on Tibet’s environment:
“In Tibet we can’t do what other provinces did, of first destroying the environment and then fixing it; Tibet’s environment is more fragile-we have to protect it from the start because it might not recover otherwise.”
(The Central Tibetan Administration is keenly following the changing mining environment in China, and the impacts of China’s Go West Campaign on Tibet’s land and culture. A more detailed report on current mining exploration activities will appear in the next issue of Tibetan Bulletin of Central Tibetan Administration)