Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tibetan Resistance to Destructive Mining in Tibet?

Earlier this year, China announced that they would set up three major mineral bases in Tibet in the next five years, following discoveries of critically important/rich reserves worth of USD 100 billion in the Plateau. The bases would be set up in the Lhasa City, Lhokha and Chamdo Prefectures.

But this is just a part of the menacing story of China's full-scale exploitation of Tibet. In 2005, Chinese geologists from the China Geological Survey Bureau boasted the success of the seven-year-long geological survey that looked for mineral resources prospecting and environmental investigation on the Tibetan Plateau. The survey is believed to have found 5,000 mineral deposits on the Plateau. It estimated 30 million tons could be extracted from copper reserves; 40 million tons from lead and zinc reserves, and 1 billion tons from iron ore reserves. More specifically, geologists have discovered 600 new sites of copper, iron, lead and zinc ore deposits along the route of the railway line.

However, a decade ago, there has only been limited large-scale exploitation of the mineral deposits found in the Tibetan Plateau mainly due to factors such as inaccessibility, lack of infrastructure, lack of geological data etc. But things have changed swiftly and now the trend of large-scale mining in the Tibetan Plateau has intensified since the completion of the Gormo-Lhasa railway line and construction of several hydro-dams near mining sites to provide necessary energy especially to mines requiring processing of ores.

With the necessary infrastructure in place and availability of such geological data, China plans to carry out mining on a larger scale in order to bring what they claim, “light to the darkness of Tibet”

Picture of Tibetans being confronted by Chinese soldiers while protesting gold mining operations in Shigatse in May 2010

But, local Tibetan don't seem to be pleased with these mining activities as is evident from the frequent reports of mining protest led by local Tibetans in Tibet. There are several economic, social, political and environmental concerns among Tibetans that makes the aim of China’s mining activities in Tibet questionable. The compiled list of recent mining protests and some of the issues that arise from these protests are also presented at the end.

Around the world, “resource curse” has become a concept that identifies the paradox of wealth in resources, translating into poverty of the local people. Tibet is an extreme example of this paradox. Not only does Tibet’s mineral wealth fail to enrich Tibetan lives, it marginalizes and impoverishes them, also ruining their land and rivers. Tibetans are powerless and have no say in the decision-making processes that affect them, be it their culture, economy or environment. This leads to the impoverishment of local communities and the enrichment of the distant elite.

Mr. Gabriel Lafitte, in his recent article 'Tibet's resource curse' explains, “China’s plan is to rapidly increase lithium extraction, first from the Qinghai Tsaidam Basin lakes, then from Drangyer Tsaka in the far west of Tibet Autonomous Region. In order to speed up industrialisation, Beijing has ordered companies to merge.” China plans to produce 30,000 tons of lithium a year from the Qinghai salt lakes. He warns that China's plan to scale up lithium extraction to meet demand for electric cars and smart phones could cause irreparable environmental damage to the fragile Tibetan Plateau.

Like in some other parts of the world, where impoverished and marginalized groups are underrepresented in any decision making process related to mining, Tibetans in Tibet are experiencing the same, if not the worse. They are excluded and silenced, their petitions and grievances are ignored, and their peaceful protests are brutally crushed. China’s policies in Tibet seem to have brought more darkness of hopelessness and discontentment rather than “light”.




  • Dakthar Dineth, Amdo Golog, 2010 (peaceful protest)          
  • May, 2010 Tibetan demonstrators against a highly pollutant local cement factory, Labrang, Sangchu County , Kanlho TAP , Gansu (open fired)          
  • April 2011, Rampant gold mining threatens human lives and ecology in Rebkong, Malho TAP (imprisonment)          
  • Monks and local residents of Kumbum filed a petition for environmental safety. Kumbum, Amdo, June 2011 (lead poisoning), ICT, RFA, Asian News          
  • June 2011, Golog, TsoNgon Shingchen, (peaceful protest- 400 students) , in English          
  • September 2011, Chone  (Ch: Zhuoni) Kanlho TAP, Gansu  Concealed exploitation led to ecological damage

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