Dharamsala Alarmed at the Rate Chinese Migrants Coming to Tibet
Reaffirms Commitment to the Middle-Way Approach
For immediate release 15 March 2007
Central Tibetan Administration is deeply concerned at the accelerating
Chinese immigration to Tibet, and intensified mineral exploitation.
“We cannot but be alarmed at the rate of Chinese migrant workers coming
to Tibet and China’s mining of various minerals on the Tibetan Plateau”
said Kalon Tempa Tsering of the Department of Information and
International Relations of the Central Tibetan Administration.
“The pace of China’s settlement of Tibet’s urban centres with Chinese
migrant workers and its exploitation of Tibet’s mineral resources are
undermining the ability of the Tibetan people to hold on to their
distinct cultural heritage,” Kalon Tempa Tsering said.
Kalon Tempa Tsering said, “It is precisely for this reason that we are
firmly committed to the Middle-Way Approach of His Holiness the Dalai
Lama, which will allow Tibetans to have an effective say in their
affairs and the allocations of their resources without undermining
Kalon Tempa Tsering is reacting to news reports that say China is
involved in mining of a host of minerals in Tibet and the unloading of
thousands of Chinese migrant workers to Lhasa on a daily basis.
There are two kinds of one-way traffic on the rail line, both harmful
to Tibet. Coming in on one-way tickets, costing as little as $49 to
come all the way from Beijing, are fortune seekers, often desperately
poor, those displaced from the countryside by Chinas voracious demand
for urban construction land.
Our sources on the ground estimate that the train to Lhasa, operational
since July 2006, brings five or six thousand people a day to Lhasa, but
when one observes the trains leaving Lhasa for China only two or three
thousand people are aboard. They are the genuine tourists. The stayers
are fortune hunters, seeking any niche they can find, often by elbowing
aside Tibetans from even small street stall trading.
In 1950, the population of Lhasa, despite its spiritual importance to
Tibetans, was only 20,000. Today, due to massive immigration attracted
by Chinas government led urban construction boom, the population has
swollen to nearly 300,000, occupying almost all the valley. Now there
are reports that Chinas target for Lhasa is a population of 700,000.
Based on our observations of the train occupancy in and out of Lhasa,
that target will be reached very quickly.
Kalon Tempa Tsering said, “The Tibetan Plateau cannot sustain such a
population explosion. Already the Tibetans in Lhasa are a small quarter
of the city, excluded from the construction boom all around them. We
oppose all development project that does not benefit but marginalises
Tibetan population socially and culturally.”
Poor Tibetans live in shantytowns on the outskirts, seeking employment,
only to be muscled aside by non-Tibetan immigrants who contribute
nothing to the Tibetan economy, because they remit their savings to
their home province.
The other equally alarming aspect of the one-way traffic is the export
of minerals from Tibet to feed Chinese factories, said Kalon Tempa
When the railway was first extended into Tibet in the 1980s, as far as
the desert staging post of Gormo, the purpose was to extract Tibetan
oil, which has gone, at rate of two million tons a year for the past 20
years. In addition China mines the salt lakes of the same area in the
Tsaidam Basin on a large scale. Gas was discovered in huge amounts in
the 1990s, also in the Tsaidam Basin, and a pipeline was built to
supply Chinas hungry energy demand for fuels for manufacturing and
electric power generation. Tibetan gas is now piped right across China.
China is investing huge effort of geological exploration, mapping
mineral deposits all over Tibet. Recently the China geological survey
announced the discovery of more than 600 new mineral deposits after
concluding a seven-year geological study on Tibetan plateau, which has
nothing less than $128 billion dollars worth of various minerals
potential for extraction.
The biggest concern lies with two minerals: copper and chromite,
particularly the major reserves currently under development and are
easily accessible. For example: Shetongmon, close to Shigatse, the
second city of Tibet, and the chromite deposits at Norbusa, close to
the town of Tsethang and the chromite at Dongchao (Ch:Dongqiao), close
to the rail line at the village called Draknak (Amdo County) in Nagchu
Prefecture. In all three cases, the railway makes possible large-scale
extraction, as each deposit is close to the railway, or to its proposed
Yulong Copper mine, which is known to have world class potential,
located in Chunyido village in Chamdo prefecture has remained
undeveloped due to remoteness but infrastructure necessary for mining
is now reportedly close to completion. Chromite mine in Dongchao, was
also closed because of remoteness but now it is no longer remote due to
railway, and it could re-open on a much bigger scale. Both copper and
chromite are vital to China’s development and industrialisation, but as
a raw material are in very short supply. China has relied heavily on
imports for these minerals for the past few decades.
Of the many mineral deposits found so far, few have been developed into
full-scale commercial operations, largely because of the high transport
costs of trucking ores out of Tibet on unreliable highways. It is
further exacerbated by harsh climatic condition that forces the mine to
remain closed during the winter.
The arrival of the railway to Lhasa dramatically changes the economics
of mineral exploitation, especially since it is not only the cost of a
ticket to Lhasa that is subsidised; a freight subsidy also enables
miners to send minerals out of Tibet for as little as US 1.5 cents per
ton per kilometre.
Most of the Tibet’s copper, including Yulong deposit is of prophyry
type. Mines like these have to be large scale, extracting hundreds of
tons of rocks per day in order to produce a profitable amount of
processed or refined copper each year. The resulting need in all types
of mine to dispose of large quantities of waste could severly impact
the environment. Soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, grassland
degradation and pollution of watercourses are some of the potential
impacts of the mining. Mining waste contaminates the water bodies often
leading to substantial reductions in water quality affecting the people
living downstream and destroying aquatic ecosystem. Tibet is the
principal source of rivers flowing in Asia upon which 47% of world’s
total population depends for their livelihood.
Besides as has often been the case, local Tibetans displaced by the
mine receive almost nothing for their compensation, and the skilled
jobs invariably go to non-Tibetan immigrants. Chinese discrimination
against Tibetans and increasing settlement of Chinese workers in Tibet
with railway already in operation would not only transform Lhasa and
other towns in Tibet but also will create new distinctly Chinese towns
and villages just as it happened in Gormo which serves as a model of
concern. This is the beginning of Chinese colonialism. Gormo, once
desert area inhabited by few scattered nomads has now grown to a large
town with 200,000 populations according to 2000 census out of which
less than two per cent are Tibetan. It was initially established as
prison farm and resource extraction site but since the arrival of
railway, immigration and development has created a distinctly Chinese