In 1949/1950, the People’s Republic of China invaded and has occupied Tibet in violation of international laws and norms. The ensuing cycle of resistance and repression culminated in a national uprising against the Chinese on March 10, 1959. Over an 18 month period, troops brutally killed over 87,000 Tibetans in the central part of Tibet alone. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans were forced into exile. Well over half of Tibet’s original territory has been incorporated into the contiguous Chinese provinces with only Central Tibet (U-Tsang) and parts of Eastern Tibet (Kham) remaining as the so-called ?Tibet Autonomous Region?
Prior to the Chinese invasion, there existed a strict ban on the hunting of wild animals in Tibet. The Chinese have not enforced such restrictions. Indeed, the trophy hunting of endangered species has been actively encouraged. Rare Tibetan animals, such as the snow leopard are hunted for their fur and sold for large sums of money in the international market. In 1990’s a permit to hunt a rare Tibetan antelope is US$35,000 and an argali sheep US$23,000. Deer antlers, musk, bones and other parts of the wild animals are used in Chinese medicine. A large number of antelope, gazelle, blue sheep and wild yak are being poached by hunters to supply meat to markets in China, Hongkong and Europe.
China is monopolizing international attention and using the giant panda to earn hard cash as well as to gain political leverage from influential countries, even as the species is threatened with extinction. China gave two giant pandas to Hong Kong in 1997 to mark the change of sovereignty. Earlier, China gave two pandas to the then British Prime Minister, Edward Heath and a pair to the US President Richard Nixon. There are now only about 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild. According to Li Bosheng (1995), a Chinese researcher, there are eighty-one endangered species on the Tibetan Plateau, which includes 39 mammals, 37 birds, 4 amphibians and 1 reptile.
Parts of southern and eastern Tibet boast some of the best quality forest reserves in the world. Large fertile forest belts contain trees with an average height of 90 feet and average girth of 5 feet or more. Although they took hundreds of years to mature, they are now indiscriminately destroyed in the name of development. An estimated 70,000 Chinese work in this industry. Similar conditions prevail in other regions of Tibet such as Markham, Gyarong, Nyarong and other areas in the Eastern and Kongpo regions of Tibet.
Tibet had 25.2 million hectares of forests in 1959, but only 13.57 million hectares in 1985; a 46 percent drop. Regrettably, this figure grows each day. By China’s own estimate, up to 80 percent of the forests in Tibet have been destroyed. The Chinese have removed over US$54 billion worth of timber from Tibet (1959-1985) and, due to mismanagement; much of the wood has been simply left to rot on riverbanks or in logjams. Reforestation is minimal and is often unsuccessful.
Massive deforestation, mining and intensified agricultural patterns in Tibet contribute to increased soil erosion. The Yangtze flood in the year 1998 which claimed the lives of thousands and resulted in a huge economic loss, was blamed by President Jiang Zemin on the rampant deforestation on the Tibetan Plateau. Additionally, scientists associate frequent floods that devastate Bangladesh as being directly associated with deforestation in Tibet.
During the 1960s, the Chinese imposed agricultural reforms on Tibetans in Tibet, which led to widespread famine throughout the country. High altitude overgrazing and intensive agricultural production has resulted in the loss of many medicinal herbs and food plants, and has destroyed much of the winter food supply. These programmes have also caused wind and water erosions, which leads to desertification. According to Chinese estimates, approximately 120,000 square kilometres in China and Tibet have become desert as a result of human activity. Of the available rangeland in Tibet, at least 30 percent is considered degraded.
Chinese authorities reportedly are forcing Tibetan farmers to buy and use chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Tibetan farmers claim that these fertilizers are highly harmful to the crops as well as to the environment.
Population Transfer Programmes:
One of the greatest threats to Tibetan people, culture and environment is the massive influx of Chinese civilians and military personnel into Tibet, especially through population transfer programmes. In 1949, the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, had approximately 1,000 Chinese inhabitants, however today their population has skyrocketed to 200,000 and Chinese in Lhasa outnumber Tibetans 3:1. Throughout Tibet itself, the 6 million Tibetans are outnumbered in their own country by the 7.5 million Chinese. As a result of this population transfer, Tibetans have been marginalised in economic, educational, political and social spheres and the rich cultural tradition of the Tibetan people is rapidly disappearing.
In 2000, China had hoped to receive a US$40 million loan from the World Bank to resettle 60,000 ethnic Chinese into north-eastern Tibet. A swelling of world-wide support educated many on China’s population transfer programmes and persuaded the World Bank to drop the project.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of development projects are non-existent under the totalitarian Chinese regime. On top of this, these development projects serve to benefit the Chinese immigrants and encourage their immigration further into Tibet, thus reducing Tibetans to second-class citizens in their own country and violating the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people.
Nuclearisation and Militarisation:
The existence of nuclear waste in Tibet was denounced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a press conference in Bangalore, India (1992). Beijing as usual, denied the existence of any nuclear waste dumping in Tibet. However, recently China had admitted to dumping of nuclear waste in Tibet. Chinese official news agency, Xinhua reported on 19 July 1995 that there is a “20 square metre dump for radioactive pollutants” in Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture near the shores of Lake Kokonor, the largest lake on the Tibetan Plateau.
In 1984, China Nuclear Industry Corporation offered Western countries nuclear waste disposal facilities at US $ 1500 per kilogram. The reports suggested that around 4000 tonnes of such nuclear waste would be sent to China by the end of the 20th century (Nucleonics Week 1984).
The “Ninth Academy” or “Factory 211” or “North Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Acadamy” is China’s top secret nuclear city adjacent to the town of Haiyan in the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Amdo (Qinghai Province). Dr. Tashi Dolma worked at the Chabcha Hospital, directly south of the nuclear city and reported that seven children of nomads whose cattle grazed near the academy developed cancer that caused their white-blood-cell count to rise uncontrollably. An American doctor conducting research at the same hospital reported that these symptoms were similar to cancers caused by radiation after Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945.
All of China’s openly documented nuclear tests have been carried out at Lopnor in Xinjiang province, northwest of Tibet. These tests have been linked to the increase in cancer and birth defects, but no medical investigations have been carried out.
According to International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), the first nuclear weapon was brought onto the Tibetan Plateau in 1971 and stationed in the Tsaidam (Ch:Qaidam) Basin, north Amdo. Several reports have claimed that nuclear missiles are stationed at Nagchuka,150 miles north of Lhasa. It was also confirmed there are three nuclear missile deployment sites in Amdo which are at Large Tsaidam, Small Tsaidam and Terlingkha (Ch:Delingha) which house Dong Feng Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (DF- ICBMs )with a range of 7,000 km. A new missile production centre is located at Drotsang (Ch: Ledu), 63 km east of Siling (Ch: Xining).
China refers to Tibet as ‘Xizang’ which literally means the western treasure house. The Plateau’s rich natural resources became a resource curse for the local residents and its ecosystem. Since late 60’s, these resources have been exploited in various scales and mostly under very poor environmental norms and regulations. The mining not only undermines the sanctity of the local landscapes but also creates social tension and distrust when standard corporate policies are not followed.
Tibetan communities try to put forward their grievances in numerous petitions to higher authorities against the miners: they are either ignored or harassed. After failing to respond adequately, the local residents then resort to street protest and are immediately suppressed by heavy armed forces. Unlike those protest related to environmental negligence and accidents in many parts of China, those that occur in Tibet are classified as political and the protestors are severely suppressed. In the frequent protests by Tibetan villagers, quite often their immediate concern has been the damages done by the miners to the local streams, rivers, landscapes and pasture land.
With the recent announcement of more than 3000 potential mining sites and many precious mineral deposits in Tibet, it is very likely that there will be more such protests in the future if the miner’s and the local cadre attitude remain unchanged. The state itself is doing everything in tapping these resources, as it is evident from the budget in the 12th Five-Year-Plan for improving the resource extraction economy infrastructures such as highways, railway lines, and hydropower plants.
So far, copper, chromium, gold and iron are the four minerals of greatest interest to Chinese and other foreign miners. These are being mined to different extents at various locations throughout the Tibetan Plateau. Over the past few years, the Chinese state government has shown more interest and has invested in the extraction of lithium ores (lithium carbonate).
Such rich reserves of minerals resources attracts miners of various scales who strive to make quick money without bothering about the standard environmental norms and laws stipulated in the PRC constitution and Law of Regional National Autonomy [Article 9 and 26 (under the general principles of PRC constitution) and Article 27, 28, 45 & 66 of ‘Law of Regional National Autonomy’].
Removal of Drogpas from their ancestral grasslands:
For many generations, pastoralism on these rangelands has been the best and the only option to live successfully. Over the time, Tibetan pastoral nomads (drogpas) has skilfully introduced domestic herds and maintained an extraordinary biodiversity of grasses and sedges, enabling human life to flourish at the Third pole. China’s new grassland policies and laws restrict the flexibility and mobility of the nomads; and their livestock are being blamed for overgrazing the grasslands. In reality, these ‘drogpas’ were the first stewards of these vast grasslands and have successfully maintained a sustainable and mobile lifestyle for many centuries.
The compulsory ecological migration of the ‘drogpas’ and herders is grounded in ignorance, prejudice, and a failure to listen and learn. Around the world, governments now increasingly recognize that pastoral nomadic mobility holds the key to sustainability on the dry lands of the world.
In the names of different programs and policies – comfortable housings projects and restore grassland policy, these ‘drogpas’, herders and farmers are being moved or lured to these concrete settlements in large scales. So far, the number of local residents moved in those fake villages and concrete houses counts to more than 3 million in whole of Tibet, including Amdo and Kham province. And still more are planned to move in the following years. These figures reflect the number of people whose lifestyle is now directly under the control of the central government and nothing more.
In those concrete settlements, joblessness and alcoholism amongst the youth are prevalent -where the elders are often seen reminiscing their past lives and reliving them in their memories and the younger ones are scavenging to earn a little extra money. The current policy of forced “villagization” is in fact a very strategic move on the part of the state to keep all the mobile pastoral wanderers in tight leash and to have open access to pastures for extractive industries without facing any resentment. The policy also enables the central government to boast that it has made sizable investments in elevating the lifestyles of local residents. But, as many anthropologist and scholars recognize, development has less to do with external materialistic life than with the freedom to choose and to lead the life that one values and respects. Given the choice of livelihood, we believe that almost all the residents of these newly constructed concrete settlements would prefer to go back to their previous lifestyle without a second thought, even if it meant leaving a two-bedroom house.
Following his mission to China in December 2010 where he saw the conditions of the newly settled ‘drogpas’ and herders in the concrete camps, Prof. Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, publicly opposed the resettlement policy. More recently, on March 6, 2012, at the UN Human Right Council in Geneva, he again expressed concerns about the displaced people living in the “new socialist-villages”.
Rivers originating from Tibet flows to more than ten countries and play a vital role in the environmental services and socioeconomic of each country. These rivers enable the Tibetan Plateau to become a strategic platform in exercising its dominance over the lower riparian states.
So far China has dammed every major river and its tributaries in Tibet and has unveiled plans to construct even more dams in the coming years. In its 12 Five Year Plan (2011 -2015), hydropower projects are to be prioritized and those that are not completed during its previous five year plan are now scheduled.
Water user communities of the downstream countries are turning their frustration on the Chinese government whose damming projects on the mainstream rivers have greatly affected their livelihood.
Green NGOs in China believe hydropower projects could bring ‘economic development’, but not necessarily to the benefit of local people. They believe that today’s insufficiently transparent policymaking mechanisms are maximizing the interests of hydropower industry, officials and a small number of experts, while driving ecological destruction, affecting local livelihoods and increasing the risk of geological disasters. Chinese government policy is that the hydropower is the cheapest source of electricity.
Many scientific studies have suggested that dams impact the aquatic ecosystem including water flows, water quality, fish habitats, wetlands, and livelihood of people relying on it. Dams also cause heavy loss of water through evaporation, and are also a globally significant source of greenhouse gases such as methane. The rotting organic matter from the vegetation and soils, and detritus that flows in the reservoir also contribute to the green house gas emission.
Not only are these rivers and tributaries dammed for generating electricity but some are also polluted with chemicals and other toxins dangerous for human consumption.
Growing industrialization, population growth, and increasing levels of consumption are placing heavy demands on water resources, which provide vital support for the subsistence livelihood to millions of people. Currently, there exists no regional framework or forum for South and East Asian nations to discuss or negotiate over water resources, other than the Mekong River Commission which does not include China.