By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
China’s latest white paper ‘Ecological Progress on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau’ begins with a brazen lie that “the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government have always valued ecological progress.
In fact, the infamous slogan ‘Man must conquer nature’ was declared by the founding father of the CPC Mao Zedong. In his opening speech at the National Conference of the CPC (March 21, 1955), Mao stated that ‘there is a way of conquering even Nature as an enemy”. He further stated that “even the high mountains must bow, and even the rivers must yield”. Such attitude towards nature by CPC and its call to develop at all cost has plunged China into as one of the most polluted regions on earth.
Too Many Lies and Factual Errors
The paper would have been a wonderful reading for someone who knows very little about Tibet, but for a regular observer, there are too many lies and factual errors. The paper states that ‘the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is one of the regions with the strictest water resource management and water environment protection in China’. There were too many cases of factories and mining companies who were not punished despite polluting local water bodies.
The case of waste from lithium mines been flushed into the Lichu river in Minyak Lhagong ( Karze region of Tibet) by the Ronda Lithium Co Limited is one such example. The toxic waste caused (May 4, 2016) mass death of fish and polluted the drinking water source of the local communities.
In a similar case on September 23, 2014, more than 1,000 local Tibetans of Dokar and Zibuk villages near Lhasa protested against the poisoning of their river by the Gyama Copper Poly-metallic mine. The mine is located close to a river that locals use for drinking, irrigation and feeding their livestock.
Another example of lack of proper water management is the rampant dumping of rural and urban wastes into nearby rivers. The paper states that RMB 6.3 billion was spent on domestic sewage and waste disposal projects but in reality, the garbage collection and management facilities are almost non-existent across Tibet, especially in rural areas.
While claiming that the Qinghai – Tibet railway was an example of green development, the paper quotes from Science Magazine (April 27, 2007) saying (the railway will) “ultimately promote the sustainable ecological, social, and economic development of western China”. But according to the actual article in the Science Magazine titled ‘Building a Green Railway in China’, the sentence begins by stating that ” If carefully managed (emphasis added), the Qinghai -Tibet railway will ultimately promote the sustainable ecological, social and economic development of the western China’. To support its argument, the paper disregards intellectual integrity by selectively misquoting incomplete sentences from Science Magazine to alter the actual context.
Contradictions between Policies and Implementations
There are far too many contradictions between policies for environmental protection and actual ground implementation. The paper claims that ‘the relevant provinces and autonomous regions have taken active measure to increase public awareness of eco-conservation, such as strengthening public campaigns on environmental protection’.
But an official circular issued by the Tibet Public Security Department of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region on February 7, 2018 has made environmental protection activities in Tibet an illegal act, thereby contradicting the claims made above.
The disregard to the pleas of Tibetans in Amchok against mining is yet another contradiction. On May 31, 2016, around 2,000 local Tibetans of Amchok in north-eastern Tibet gathered to protest against mining on their sacred mount Gong-nyong Lari. But the Chinese government brutally suppressed the protesters by seriously injuring many and detaining six local Tibetans. They were calling for “protection of the environment, protection of the sacred mountain and protection of people’s safety”.
Some Important Issues are Ignored
The paper makes no mention of natural disasters despite Tibetan areas facing devastating floods, landslides, and mudslides in recent years.
The mountainous Tibetan Plateau faces the severest impact of climate change due to its high elevation at low latitude. The situation is further exacerbated by unregulated constructions and mining activities in the region. The plateau has seen an unprecedented number of natural disaster across Tibet since 2016. There are numerous floods and landslides occurring in North-eastern and Central regions of Tibet as we write. Unfortunately, the paper does not mention these natural disasters or efforts taken by the Chinese government to mitigate the impact.
This is apparently due to lack of real understanding of the current socio-environmental situation in Tibet by the Chinese government. The Chinese government has done very little to address climate change and put forth any preventive measures to mitigate the impact of increasing incidents of natural disasters. As is often the case, it has been the Tibetan monasteries who have rushed to the scene of natural disasters to help the public.
While claiming massive progress in the creation of nature reserves, the plight of millions of resettled nomads have conveniently brushed aside. The lack of jobs and educational opportunities in the resettled areas have pushed the nomadic population into the margins of the society where they are compelled into alcoholism, prostitution, and children engaging in petty crimes. A whole generation of Tibetans are impoverished and forced into destitution.
The paper also gives very little information about Ngawa and Karze regions of eastern Tibet. These regions have seen increasing natural disasters, numerous protests against mining and often face repressive policies.
Environmental conservation efforts in Tibetan areas are arrogantly forced upon them by the state without informing or taking local communities into confidence. Such colonial approaches have often led to a confrontation between the people and the government. It’s the Tibetans who have preserved the fragile plateau for thousands of years and acquired enormous indigenous knowledge of the land and its climatic patterns.
The lack of mitigation efforts to face the new environmental situation and climatic conditions is a major failure. Tibetans should not be left to face a natural disaster in the coming years as it has been in the last three years.
The formulation of stricter regulations on protection of nature reserves is a welcome effort, a similar policy is also urgently required to strictly regulate the influx of millions of tourists into the plateau as it could leave a massive carbon footprint on the fragile ecosystem of Tibet.
The millions of resettled nomads should be provided with jobs, education and medical facilities to restore their dignity and livelihood.
Ever since Xi Jinping became the president, there have been positive efforts on environmental protection across China and in Tibet. But the lack of environmental knowledge, respect for the environment and sincere desire for environmental protection among Chinese officials have led to various contradictions and confrontations. As a result, environmental conservation projects by various local Chinese governments in Tibet often end up further damaging the local environment and destroying people’s livelihood.
*Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen is an environmental research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute