Friday, 4 May 2018

Nomads of Kham Lhatok Forced to Make Way for Mining

                                                                                                                    *By Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen
                                                                                                                 Actual Date February 14, 2018

According to a Radio Free Asia report on 16 January 2018, the Chinese authorities in Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture have forced about 400 to 500 nomadic families in Lhato for expansion of Yulung Copper Mine and warned locals not to go onto the newly fenced off area to collect caterpillar fungus. Caterpillar or Yartsagunbu as its known in Tibetan is possibility only real source of income for the Tibetans in the region.

The Yulong Copper Mine site is primarily located in the (Kham Lhatok) Jomda County of Chamdo Prefecture, eastern Tibet.  The vast mine site also extends to another county as part of Lhatok has been incorporated with Chamdo county. Yulong Copper Mine is reported to be the largest copper mine in China and the second largest mine in Asia. The mine has a proven deposit of 6.5 million tons of copper in ore form and another 10 million tons of prospective reserves. According to a report in the People’s Daily (2008), the company eventually hopes to expand the production capacity to 100,000 tons a year.

Yulong copper mine is predominantly owned by Zijin Mining Group and Western Mining, both of which are China’s major mining and development company. The Western Mining holds a 58 percent stake in the mine and a unit of Goldman Sachs owns just over 8 percent of Western Mining (Reuters 2008). Western Mining Co is China’s seventh-largest copper miner. According to a Bloomberg report, the Tibet Yulong Copper Joint Stock Limited owns and operates Yulong copper mine that contains copper reserves. As per the transaction announced on 9 August, 2007, Tibet Yulong Copper

Yulung Copper Mine Site 
Joint Stock Limited operates as a subsidiary of Western Mining Co. Ltd. The Tibet Yulong Copper Joint Stock Limited was founded in 2005 and is based in China. Despite the huge copper deposit, the mine has not been in full production due to lack of necessary infrastructure. According to a statement from the company, the operation of the mine has been delayed since the 1990s due to the remoteness of the place and its weak supporting infrastructures for the mining industry. But in recent years, the scale of both expansion and extraction of the mine has greatly increased as infrastructure in the region rapidly improves. Guoduo Hydropower Station, the second largest hydropower station in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region was built to provide power for the Yulong Copper Mine (Xinhua). Even the proposed Lhasa-Nyingtri-Chengdu railway line takes an unusual turn by making a long detour off the most direct route between its namesake cities to reach the Yulong mining site. The planned railway line, otherwise touches only important county towns and prefecture cities on its route but the track deliberately touches Yulong before it moves to Chamdo city.

There has been a welcome sign of increased concern for the environment ever since Xi Jinping came into power in China.  Chinese local officials in Tibet are trying to echo their President without any real commitment for environment conservation.  Grand proposalsa were declared to create nature reserves that devoid of any actual protection on the ground, instead thousands of nomads were forced to move out from their traditional homes.

According to a press conference held inBeijing (10 March 2017) on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress, Lobsang Gyaltsen, former chairman of Tibet and current Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet People’s Congress said that “No mining project have been approved throughout the period under two leaderships in Tibet.”   So what is happening in Chamdo could be summarized as a dual strategy – a strategy of not permitting new companies and shutting down insignificant polluting companies while allowing mega companies to both expand and increase production from the existing mine sites. Such a strategy would first help reduce further environmental destruction in the region to some extent and also will give the local government much needed claim of protecting the environment. Second, such a strategy would relieve prefecture governments’ fear of losing their bulk of income from mining.

Central Tibetan Administration needs to raise such issue of contradictions and also need to point out the lack of any benefit for the local Tibetan communities from the multi-billion worth of natural resources been extracted from Tibet.

                                      *The Author is an environment Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute

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