How China is Plundering the Natural Resources of Tibet

August 22, 2008 at 6:54 pm (Partha Gangopadhyay, Politics)


China is incurring huge expenditure in transferring and consolidating the Chinese population in Tibet. Massive investment has been made to build a network of modern highways all over Tibet. China can also boast of having laid the highest railway track in the world that connects Lhasa with Beijing. In fact, China often complains that its “civilizing” mission in Tibet is costing the government and people of China large amounts in terms of subsidies to an under-developed region. According to official Chinese statistics, the level of annual subsidies to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in the late 1980s was around 1 billion yuan or $270 million. However, all the infrastructure that China has built in Tibet has not made the lives of the native Tibetans any better; it has only taken the exploitative apparatuses of the Chinese government deeper. 


China’s Ministry of Land and Resources has announced monumental new resource discoveries all across Tibet. The findings are the culmination of a secret 7-year, $44 million survey project, which began in 1999. More than 1,000 researchers were divided into 24 separate groups and fanned out across the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to geologically map the entire Tibetan region. Their findings have lead to a discovery of 16 major new deposits of copper, iron, lead, zinc and other minerals worth an estimated $128 billion. These discoveries add to Tibet’s proven deposits of 126 minerals, with a significant share of the world’s reserves in lithium, chromite, copper, borax, and iron. “Lack of resources has been a bottleneck for the economy,” Meng Xianlai, director of the China Geological Survey, had once complained in his statements. The discoveries in Tibet “will alleviate the mounting resources pressure China is facing.”  


Tibet is now said to hold as much as 40 million tons of copper — one third of China’s total, 40 million tons of lead and zinc, and more than a billion tons of high-grade iron. Among the Tibet discoveries is China’s first substantial rich-iron supply. A seam called Nyixung, is alone expected to contain as much as 500 million tons. That’s enough to reduce Chinese iron import by 20 per cent. The new copper reserves are no less substantial. A 250-mile seam of the metal has been found along Tibet’s environmentally sensitive Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge. One mine there, called Yulong, already described as the second-largest reserve in China, is now estimated to hold as much as 18 million tons, according to the government news site Xinhua and could soon become the largest copper mine in the country, helping to feed China’s increasing demand of the metal used for electrical wiring and power generation. China, which until now has imported much of its copper from Chile, is estimated to hold 5.6 per cent of the world’s copper and is its seventh largest producer. 


The riches that China expects to extract from Tibet in the near future, perhaps better explains the money that China annually spends on Tibet than the empty claims of modernizing Tibet. 


In fact, an official web site of China has itself disclosed that “Once-quiet, northern Tibet has become a scene of bustle and excitement since a number of inland enterprise marched into the region in response to the government call for speeding up the development of western China. Northern Tibet has more than 200 mining areas with 28 kinds of mineral ores, and is rich in oil and hot springs.”  


The China National Star Petroleum Corporation and the China National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Corporation have recently dug up the first oil well in the Lunpola Basin, which has a proven oil reserve of three million tons. This reserve is in addition to the over one million tons of crude oil that Amdo’s oil fields produce per year. Further, the Chinese have opened two alluvial gold mines in Nagqu and built a gem processing plant in Lhasa. Soinam Dorje, an official of the Nagqu Prefecture, has welcomed inland and foreign investors to exploit the gold, oil and antimony resources on the plateau of northern Tibet. This also goes far to explain the need to invest in infrastructure all over Tibet. Apart from its rich mineral wealth, Tibet has many other resources that may provide China the edge in its race to emerge as the world’s richest economy. 


The volume of timber that China has taken away from Tibet itself far exceeds the amount that it has spent to build the infrastructural facilities in Tibet. In 1949, Tibet’s ancient forests covered 221,800 sq km. By 1985 they stood at 134,000 sq km — almost half. Most forests grow on steep, isolated slopes in the river valleys of Tibet’s low-lying south-eastern region. The principal types are tropical montane and subtropical montane coniferous forest, with spruce, fir, pine, larch, cypress, birch, and oak among the main species. The tree line varies from 3,800 mt in the region’s moist south to 4,300 mt in the semi-dry north. Tibet’s forests were primarily old growth, with trees over 200 years old predominating. The average stock density is 272 cubic mt/ha, but U-Tsang’s old growth areas reach 2,300 cubic mt/ha — the world’s highest stock density for conifers. Once pristine forests are reached, the most common method of cutting is clear felling, which has led to the denudation of vast hill sides. Timber extraction until 1985 totaled 2,442 million cubic mt, or 40 per cent of the 1949 forest stock, worth $54 billion. 


Deforestation is a major source of employment in Tibet: in the Kongpo area of the TAR alone, over 20,000 Chinese soldiers and Tibetan prisoners are involved in tree felling and transportation of timber. In 1949, Ngapa, in Amdo, had 2.20 million hectares of land under forest cover. Its timber reserve then stood at 340 million cubic mt. In the 1980s, it was reduced to 1.17 million hectares, with a timber reserve of only 180 million cubic mt. Similarly, during 30 years, till 1985 China exploited 6.44 million cubic mt of timber from Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. As new roads increasingly penetrate remote areas of Tibet, China is finding new excuses to increase the rate of deforestation in the region.  


China’s primary objective of constructing roads in Tibet is to deploy occupying forces like the People’s Liberation Army, along with defence materials, and immigration of Chinese, as well as to exploit the natural resources of Tibet, which are transported primarily to China. Roads may run through most Tibetan villages, but a public transport system is almost non-existent in the majority of rural Tibet. The Chinese modern means of transport do not benefit the majority of Tibetans. Tibetans in most places continue to use horses, mules, yaks, donkeys and sheep as modes of transportation. Thus, the Chinese claim of investing heavily in “civilizing” the Tibetans is one of the most shameless lies that one can perpetuate. 


The Tibetan plateau gives birth to some of the longest rivers of the world; The Machu (Huang Ho, or Yellow River), the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), the Drichu (Yangtze), and the Senge Khabab (Indus).  Tibet also has over 2,000 natural lakes spread over a combined area of more than 35,000 sq km, some of which are sacred and play a special role in local culture. Steep slopes and the abundant water of these rivers and lakes make them extremely valuable as sources of hydroelectric power. Tibet has an exploitable hydropower potential of 250,000 megawatts, the highest of any country in the world and the TAR alone has a potential of 200,000 megawatts. China has built some large hydroelectricity projects all over Tibet. These projects are designed to tap Tibet’s hydro potential to provide power and other benefits to the Chinese population and industries both in Tibet and China.  


While the Tibetans are displaced from their homes and lands, tens of thousands of Chinese workers are brought up from China to construct and maintain these dams. Take the case of the Yamdrok Yutso hydropower project. The Chinese claim that this project will greatly benefit the Tibetans. The Tibetan people in general, particularly the late Panchen Lama and Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, opposed and effectively delayed its construction for several years. The Chinese, nevertheless, went ahead with the construction and with the help of more than 1,500-strong PLA troops are guarding the construction area and no civilians are allowed near it. But the environmental, human and cultural toll of these hydroelectricity projects will have to be borne by the Tibetans.  Tibet also possesses high solar energy potential per unit only after the Sahara, an estimated annual average of 200 kilocalorie/cm, as well as significant geothermal resources. Despite such abundant potential from small, environmentally-benign sources, the Chinese have built huge dams, such as Longyang Xia, and are continuing to do so, such as the hydropower station at Yamdrok Yutso. Tibet is made to play a pivotal role in fulfilling the huge demand for power in China at the cost of its own helpless, poor natives. 


Furthermore, Tibet has been made a hub of nuclear facilities. This reduces the radioactive risks that China could suffer if an accident takes place in such installations. Again, since such facilities are located in a colonized region, the Chinese authorities do not take the necessary precautions that are mandatory for such facilities. Official Chinese pronouncements have confirmed the existence in Tibet of the biggest uranium reserves in the world. Apart from Amdo, since 1976 uranium has been mined and processed in the Thewo and Zorge regions of Kham also. According to reports, the uranium mining and processing in Tibet is done with unforgivable callousness. The Ninth Academy, China’s Northwest Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Academy in Tibet’s north-eastern area of Amdo, is reported to have dumped an unknown quantity of radioactive waste on the Tibetan plateau, according to a report released by International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington, D.C.-based organization: 


“Waste disposal methods were reported to be casual in the extreme. Initially, waste was put in shallow, unlined landfills… The nature and quantity of radioactive waste generated by the Ninth Academy is still unknown… During the 1960s and 1970s, nuclear waste from the facility was disposed of in a roughshod and haphazard manner. Nuclear waste from the academy would have taken a variety of forms — liquid slurry, as well as solid and gaseous waste. Liquid or solid waste would have been in adjacent land or water sites.” 


Given the fact that underground water supplies in Amdo have been diminishing at a rapid rate and usable underground water is very limited, the radioactive contamination of groundwater is of great concern in the region. Many local Tibetans have died after drinking contaminated water near a uranium mine in Ngapa, Amdo. They have also reported deformed birth of humans and animals.  


The existence of Chinese nuclear bases and nuclear weapon manufacturing centres in Tibet has been reported from time to time. China is reported to have stationed approximately 90 nuclear warheads in Tibet. The Northwest Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Academy or the Ninth Academy, a secret organization involved in China’s  nuclear programme which is also a high security military weapons plant, is based at Dhashu (Chinese: Haiyan) in the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It was responsible for designing all of China’s nuclear bombs through the mid-70s. It served as a research centre for detonation development, radiochemistry and many other nuclear weapons related activities. It also assembled components of nuclear weapons. Several missile bases are located to the south of Lake Kokonor in Amdo, and Nagchukha. Another nuclear missile site in Tibet is located at Delingha, about 200 km south-east of Larger Tsaidam. It also houses DF-4s, and is the missile regimental headquarters for Amdo, containing four associated launch sites. It has been reported a number of times that China has carried out chemical defence manoeuvres in the high altitude zones of Tibet. There are also reports that China has been conducting nuclear tests in several areas of Tibet in order to determine radiation levels on the human population.  


Not only is its economy, China’s military might too is growing because of its colonization of Tibet.


China is exploiting far more from Tibet than what it is giving back. While China is proudly hosting the Olympics with its spectacular stadia and dazzling shows, the future of Tibet is turning gloomier. 


– Partha Gangopadhyay 


[Quote from Nuclear Tibet, Washington, DC, 1993, p.18 



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China’s Diabolic Demographic Plan for Tibet

June 2, 2008 at 2:11 pm (Partha Gangopadhyay, Politics)


China can justifiably claim to have done a lot for the development of Tibet. Very recently it has replaced more than 17000 Tibetan household in the Qiang province of the Tibetan autonomous region to new households to rescue them for the deadly Kashin-Beck disease at a cost of about $ 157 million. All over Tibet China has spent millions to relocate rural populace to modern sanitized homes from ancient Tibetan style habitats. China can boast of having increased the average per capita income of rural Tibetans by 17.2 percent last year. Great advances have taken place in the field of communications and transport all over Tibet. The railway track connecting Beijing and Lhasa is arguably the highest railway facility in the whole world.


 Despite all that China has done for Tibet in the last fifty years, the aspiration of Tibetan people for freedom from Chinese rule remains undiminished. The recent clashes in Tibet over protests by Tibetan monks to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first mass protest against Chinese occupation bears testimony to the fact that fifty years of political propaganda and ‘developmental work’ have failed to crush the love and loyalty that Tibetans owe to their ancient culture and religious identity.


If  material progress is used as the only benchmark to justify Chinese occupation of Tibet then the British perhaps had every reason to rule India for one more century for all that they have done for this country’s infrastructure development in addition to the introduction of modern education and modern governance. In fact, the imperialist have always defended their action by showcasing the development they have brought to the country they ruled. The imperialists have, with varying degrees of success, always claimed to have rescued the colonized from the demonic rule in the past.


In that sense, the Chinese treatment of Tibet is no different from any other imperialist regime that the world has seen. Though some credit must be given to China for all that it has done to modernize Tibet, the political and cultural subjugation that common Tibetans face under the Chinese regime and the rampant economic exploitation of Tibet by China betrays its imperialist intentions.


If there is one policy that has exposed the ulterior motive of the Chinese government to the world, it is the policy of transfer of Chinese population into Tibet and controlling Tibetan population with stringent measures.


Since 1949, China has periodically inundated Tibet with large number of Chinese settlers. From 1983 there has been a sharp increase in the transfer of Chinese settlers to Central Tibet. In Lhasa alone, there were 50,000 to 60,000 ordinary Chinese residents in 1985. From 1985 to 1988, additional Chinese immigrants doubled the population of Lhasa.


In late 1992, China announced the opening of Tibet’s economy to ‘foreign investments’. In reality, that was a subterfuge to facilitate widespread Chinese settlement in Tibet.


 Kham and Amdo provinces in Tibet are the worst affected by this demographic policy. By 1959, when China installed its Government in the Tibetan capital, Chinese population in these eastern parts of Tibet had already reached an alarming proportion. The influx escalated from 1962 onwards when thousands of additional Chinese settlers were sent into these areas as ‘builders, workers, and technicians’.


In fact, in a statement to the Legal Inquiry Committee of International Commission of Jurists, way back in August 1959, the Dalai Lama said that in 1955 he had heard an important Chinese official mentioning to the Panchen Lama, “Tibet was a big country and unoccupied and that China had a big population which can be settled there”. There is clear indication of the policy of population transfer in Mao Zedong’s 1952 statement: “Tibet covers a large area but is thinly populated. Its population should be increased from the present two or three million to five or six million, and then to over ten million”. In the aftermath of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Premier Zhou Enlai observed: “The Chinese are greater in number and more developed in economy and culture but in the regions they inhabit there is not much arable land left and underground resources are not as abundant as in the regions inhabited by fraternal nationalities”.


The fact that this demographic ploy is a part of the Chinese policy to suppress Tibet can be understood from the incentive the Chinese government provides to the settlers in Tibet. In fact all housing, health-care, cultural and educational facilities that China claims to have built in Tibet are all part of an enormously expensive plan to provide for the Chinese in Tibet. To encourage Chinese population to settle in Tibet other costly subsidies like high-altitude allowance, and transporting wheat and rice by truck to Tibet are provided to them.


Annual wages for Chinese personnel are 87 per cent higher in Tibet than in China. The longer they stay in Tibet, the higher the benefits. Vacations for Chinese personnel in Tibet are far longer than those in China. For every 18 months of work in Tibet, they receive a three-month leave back to China, and all the expenses are paid by their Government.


The Chinese entrepreneurs receive special tax exemptions and loans at low-rate interest in Tibet, whereas for Tibetans to start an enterprise in their own homeland is extremely difficult. In Kham and Amdo, most of the fertile lands in the valleys have been given to Chinese settlers, driving the Tibetans to barren lands. Almost all key administrative positions in Tibet are held by the Chinese. Furthermore, Chinese settlers are given preference over Tibetans in jobs created by forestry and mineral exploitation in Tibet.


The general economic impact of the Chinese settlers on Tibetans may be gauged from the following example: Of the 12,827 shops and restaurants in Lhasa city (excluding Barkhor), only 300 are owned by Tibetans. In Tsawa Pashö, southern Kham, Chinese own 133 business enterprises whereas Tibetans own only 15. The ownership ratio is in other Tibetan towns: 748 to 92 in Chamdo, 229 to 3 in Powo Tramo. The situation is far worse in the urban centers of Amdo, where, according to one British journalist, Tibetans are reduced to ‘tourist curios’. A well-planned large-scale Chinese population transfer policy has marginalized Tibetans in economic, political, educational and social spheres in their own homeland. In the early 1980s, the Tibetan Government-in- Exile estimated the Chinese population in the whole of Tibet at 7.5 million. The figure today may be well in excess of this. The Chinese population transfer policy has reduced the Tibetans in Tibet to a minority. Thus even if at any future date the Tibetans manage to get their long standing demand for plebiscite for determination of their future they will be at great disadvantage.


Along with the policy of population transfer, China has also implemented an even more sinister policy of controlling Tibetan population by repressive measures of birth control. From 1984 China imposed its policy allowing Tibetan couples to have only two children. Heavy fines ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 Yuan or US$ 400 to 800 are imposed on Tibetan parents for the birth of a third child.


Extra children are denied ration cards and workers violating the rule have their pay cut to the extent of 50 per cent, or in some cases withheld altogether from work for three to six months. Such coercive measures as well as regular birth control campaigns and sterilization programs are implemented  to keep Tibetan population under control.


In Kham and Amdo, an even more repressive policy is being enforced. For example, in “Gansu Parig Tibetan Autonomous District” 2,415 women were sterilized in 1983 of whom 82 per cent were Tibetans. In 1987, 764 women of child-bearing age were sterilized in Zachu district in “Kanze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture” of which 660 were Tibetans. Mobile birth control teams roam the countryside and pastoral areas where they round up women for abortion and sterilization. Even women well advanced in their pregnancy are forced to undergo abortion followed by sterilization.


The effect of all such policies to change the demography of Tibet has put the Tibetans in very vulnerable position. Although there is no independent census report of the Tibetan population living in Tibet today, historical Tibetan sources show that their population before the Chinese invasion was at least six million. Even statistics provided by the Chinese themselves suggested that the population of Tibetans was over six million in 1959 but now they insist that the total Tibetan population is only slightly more than four million. Where have the rest two million Tibetans during last fifty years? It is ironical that China, a communist country is wreaking the Tibetans the same havoc that the capitalist Americans inflicted on the Red Indians centuries back. Imperialists, it seems, in all ages, in all cultures are no different.


– Partha Gangopadhyay.

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