Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Gyama Mine in Tibet On the Global Conflict Mine Map

Here we have re-posted an Interview we gave to Daniela, appeared on EJOLT. This is not only a detailed interview but it also facilitated in putting Gyama Mine Disaster on the Global Map as Conflict Mine. 


Posted on EJOLT or Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade. 
Mining, large infrastructure, turism and forced settlement of nomads lead to social distress and self immolations
By Daniela Del Bene (ICTA, UAB).

“The number of Tibetans setting themselves ablaze is increasing at an alarming rate. […] In addition to several political, social, religious and economic factors, the impact of mining and environmental pollution has been one of the major causes that drive fiery protests across Tibet”; an article from 2013 by the Research Office of the Environment and Development Desk of the Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala makes in this way the connection between self-immolations and environmental distress in Tibet; “On Tuesday 20.11.12 a Tibetan in his mid-’30s […] walked up the hill to the entrance of gold mining site in Gyagar Thang, poured kerosene over his body and set himself on fire”i. According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, based in Dharamsala, this young man wanted to denounce the hardship of local communities affected by mining operation of the Chinese companies. As in many other countries, pain caused by the deterioration of the local ecologies and the disruption of traditional ways of life leads to resistances and constructive struggles but also to extreme acts of dissent and frustration. Moreover, China’s occupation of Tibet since the 1950s opened the door to systematic exploitation of Tibet’s rich minerals (copper, gold, chromite, aluminium, iron ore, boron, lead, zinc, lithium), but also crude oil, potassium, asbestos, natural gas and coal. Pollution of water bodies and additional impacts on the territories due to hydropower stations to provide energy to the mines are aggravating living conditions. Railways and roads made access to local cultural sites and natural amenities much easier and tourism is bringing along severe cultural and environmental impacts. Also, to facilitate extraction of natural resources and to control their movements and use of resources, Chinese authorities are forcing Tibetan nomads to settle down in ad hoc built villages where they are losing their traditional practices and therefore part of their culture.

In December 2014 in Dharamsala, I discussed these issues with Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, Environment Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Here is a short version of our interview. Full text is available as PDF here Please also read about the conflict at the Gyama mine in the EJatlas, the first case we cover in Tibet.

Can you please introduce your work at the Environment and Development Desk and describe the major environmental challenges you are facing now in Tibet?

The Environment and Development Desk has been set up under the Tibetan Policy Institute; we monitor current environmental situation in Tibet, research on the impact of climate change and damage caused by human factors, and then we try to disseminate an unbiased and true information about the global significance of the Tibetan Plateau and its current state of environment to the international community and governments. For Tibetans, environment issue is one of the most urgent tasks. His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) once said that political issue could wait but not environment. Since Tibetan plateau is very fragile, any major damage to its ecological state would be very difficult to restore. As Tibetans, we have a very intimate relation to nature because we believe there is presence of God everywhere, on the mountains, in the rivers, so we try to minimize the impacts as much as possible.

Things have changed ever since Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950s. Intentionally or unintentionally, there have been lots of environmental damages in the Tibetan areas under Chinese rule. China has already built railway lines, which makes mining much easier, cheaper and profitable. Then, they have constructed many hydropower stations that are indispensable for mining. Often, investors in these mining companies are central and provincial government officials. So every time local communities resist, they are first asked to just go away; if they insist, the companies try to convince that it’s meant for community’s development; if they still meet opposition, they try to divide the community and bribe members; lastly, they just deploy police forces to brutally repress resistance (by tear gas, rubber bullets, or opening fire). We managed to document at least 20 big protests against mining since 2009, although there could be many more. Such news will never come up in the Chinese media, so locals have no option but to send such information out to the world at great risk. So it’s very important for us to make this information known to the outside world and the Chinese government, the world has a responsibility to act. Local governments and mining companies always operate in collaboration and are far too powerful actors.

-What does mining entail for Tibetan people living in that area? What kind of resettlement policies is put in place?

To accelerate mining in Tibetan areas Tibetan nomads have to be removed from such areas; Chinese government introduced policies to completely resettle Tibetan nomads into poorly planned concentrated village, so that mining companies could have a free hand in the vast resource rich grassland at the cost of Tibetan nomads. So, we can say it’s another type of displacement, not from a precise spot to which you have official entitlement but from a whole area and way of life.

But it’s not only mining; tourism in Tibet is expanding fast but is concentrated in a few areas during a very short summer season, with massive numbers. Recently, China has built routes for tourists to visit sacred lakes and important environmental sites; such action would hurt both people and the land. But this kind of tourism creates very little wealth and job for the local Tibetans; most of the tourists in Tibet are Chinese. They mostly book travel packages through a Chinese Travel Agencies who books Chinese hotels to stay, a Chinese driver for local travel and a Chinese guide, and mostly eat in a Chinese restaurant.

-Your work in documenting socio-environmental resistances in Tibet is quite unique. Can you recall any interesting case you learnt about and their outcomes?

The most known case is probably a copper mine closed to Lhasa, called Gyama (in Chinese, Jiama) Copper Gold Polymetallic Mine, in an area rich in copper, zinc, lead, lithium. The mine was once declared as a model mine by the Chinese government. How ironic that the Tibetan communities around it have been protesting for over 5 years now as the mine brought disruption to the nomadic life on the mountains in that valley. It also caused river water pollution. Most notably the massive mine induced landslides in 2013 that killed more than 80 workers in the same mine. Though the Chinese government claims that the landslide was due to natural factors and not caused by the Gyama mine, we at the Environment Desk have strong evidence to prove that the 2013 landslide was caused by mismanagement of the mine.
Further details, stories and anecdotes are included in the FULL INTERVIEW (PDF).
For more information:
*Gyama Mine conflict in the EJAtlas
*Environment and Development Desk, http://tibet-edd.blogspot.com.es/
*Shielding the Mountains documentary movie, directed by Kunga Lama. Produced by Emily Yeh.
*Tibet Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, “Imposing Modernity with Chinese Characteristics”, Dharamsala 2011
*Jampel Dell’Angelo, The sedentarization of Tibetan nomads: conservation or coercion?, p. 309-332 in H. Healy et al, Ecological Economics from the Ground Up, Routledge, London, 2012.
*“We are here to stay”, a LAMCA-EJOLT documentary movie
*Leah Temper, Daniela del Bene and Joan Martinez-Alier. 2015. Mapping the frontiers and front lines of global environmental justice: the EJAtlas. Journal of Political Ecology.http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_22/Temper.pdf

i http://tibet.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/AR-Gyama-9-April.pdf
i Tsering Dhundup “Scarring the land, scraping the wounds”, available at: http://www.india-seminar.com/2013/644/644_tsering_dhundup.htm

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Tibet’s Economic Development and China’s ‘Boomerang Aid’

On 1st September 2015, the Central Tibetan Administration or the Exile Tibetan Government responded to the Chinese White Paper on Tibet issued back in April 2015. 

The response  was realistically and responsibly titled "Tibet was not Part of China but Middle Way Remains a Viable Solution ". Fortunately, the response from the Exile Tibetan Government  has more reliable information and realistic approach than the Chinese white paper which contains nothing more than absolute rhetorics and deliberate lies.

As an Institution that deals with environment and developmental issues in Tibet, the most interesting part of the Chinese White Paper  and the response from Exile Tibetan Government is the current state of Environment and path of development in Tibet under Chinese rule. We were encouraged by the Chinese government's latest effort to tackle environmental issues in China, but appalled by the lack of similar effort in Tibetan areas where extensive mining and damming causing extreme damage to the fragile ecosystem of the World's highest Plateau and marginalizing its rightful inhabitants of any real benefits.

Following is an extract from the Tibetan Response on the Chinese white Paper which claims environmental protection and economic progress for the Tibetan people.


Tibet’s Economic Development and China’s ‘Boomerang Aid'

While the Chinese government attempts to rationalise its occupation of Tibet stating that it was backward and feudal, Tibet today is far from current international standards in terms of human development. Tibet today is off-limits to any scrutiny by independent international media and rights groups. On the issue of the current state of Tibet’s development, the United Nations Development Programme says, “Tibet still lags behind other areas of China in terms of human development. Harsh conditions, scarce resources, and insufficient infrastructure limit potential sources of economic growth. Meanwhile, the growth that does take place is concentrated in cities and yields little benefit to many ethnic Tibetans, most of whom live in rural areas and lack skills compared to migrant workers from other parts of China.” There is an acute need for a shift in the basic approach towards the development of Tibet. Beijing’s approach has led to chronic dependence on subsidies, referred to as “blood transfusion economy” by economists. There is massive central government aid to Tibet to develop infrastructure, highways, railway lines, airports and communications system, all aimed to facilitate Beijing’s control of Tibet. But what the central government’s right hand gives to Tibet is also taken away by its left hand. Economists define this sleight of hand as “boomerang aid.” Tibet’s expanding network of highways and railway lines is helping Beijing to exploit the region’s abundant natural resources. Tibet’s water and hydro energy resources and its minerals are exploited with no or little compensation for the local Tibetans. On the other hand, Beijing’s focus on urbanisation and infrastructure, plus settling the Tibetan plateau with immigrants, has not really helped to improve the life of the majority of Tibetans but has increased their marginalisation. Nor has there been a transfer of skills to Tibetans. Tibet continues to rely on outside aid, both capital and labour. “This urban-oriented growth has contributed to rapidly increasing income disparity between urban and rural areas, and between Han and Tibetan populations” (Holcombe, Arthur. 10 June 2002. Testimony to US Congressional Executive Commission on China). The Chinese government often talks about spending millions on boosting development in Tibet, but how much of that money is actually spent on improving health, education, job and social welfare that benefit the local Tibetans is a big question. China’s own statistics show that most of the money as part of China’s Western Development programme is being spent on mega projects like extending and expanding highways, railways and airports to transport minerals from Tibet and bring in tourists, officials and Chinese migrants to the plateau. What Tibetans actually need are good schools with qualified teachers, hospitals with modern facilities and doctors, jobs and employment opportunities in their own villages and towns.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Why Tibet Matters.
Can download this Infographic at http://tibet.net/#/wtm/1

Monday, 20 April 2015


The toxic smog engulfing Beijing and other Chinese cities has forced the Communist government to amend its development model and bring in a new environmental protection law in a bid to calm ever growing public anger. Unfortunately, as in the past, the new environment law may prefer to stay within China proper rather than extend into the ethnic regions of the PRC.
Ever since the former President Hu Jintao’s scientific development concept slogan in 2003, there has been loud government rhetoric on environment protection, but the lack of genuine efforts was evident from Chai Jing’s ‘Under the Dome’ documentary film. The film reveals that the giant state-owned companies continue to flout environmental laws and still pride themselves as patriots
Site of the Lianghekou Dam currently under construction will be the highest embankment Dam in China
So, how might the new environmental protection law be enforced is a question which needs analysis.
The swift approval of the new law and the appointment of Chen Jining as the minister to enforce the law is a step forward. This is a welcome indication that President Xi Jinping is serious about environmental protection. But the commercial interests of the giant state-owned companies are deeply intertwined with the wealth of the Chinese central and provincial officials. So any moves directly affecting this lucrative business would mean serious internal friction.
Therefore the Chinese government may take an approach that aims to appease both the officials and urban citizens. Beijing would enforce the new environmental law as strictly as possible in China proper to calm growing public dissent, while leaving the law ambiguously enforced in the ethnic regions like Inner Mongolia, East Turkestan and Tibet (as it often does in the ethnic regions where constitutional rights are misinterpreted and curbed in the name of development and stability). Such an approach would thus enable the Chinese companies to continue making money far away from Beijing; in places where the laws are interpreted and manipulated as it suits the interests of the central and local officials, or where environment protests are ruthlessly suppressed as they are deemed ‘anti-national’ or ‘influenced by the Dalai clique’.
The more than 20 large-scale mining protests in Tibetan areas brutally suppressed by the Chinese government in the past 5 years is a dreadful reminder of the ambiguity of such laws.

  • The Gyama (near Lhasa) mine landslide in March 2013 which killed 83 mine workers was clearly induced by mismanagement of the mine, but the company was not punished.
  • The same mine was blamed for the poisoning of a stream flowing through Dokar village in September 2014, but the officials again sided with the mining company. The stream is a tributary of Lhasa Kyichu River which joins the Yarlung Tsangpo or the Brahmaputra.
  • On August 2013, the locals of Zatoe in Kham (north-eastern Tibet) protested against mining in the Sianjainyun (Source region of Machu, Drichu and Zachu River) Nature Reserve. The officials fired tear gas and detained the locals instead of enforcing the nature reserve protection laws.
  • Mining has been declared the pillar industry in the Tibetan areas, despite being the biggest threat to the fragile ecosystem of the world’s highest plateau, thus hurting both the land and the people of this ancient civilization.
So the terrifying visible outcome is that the Tibetan plateau is being plundered and poisoned, and gradually being turned into another toxic Chinese province. Environmental protection means not repeating past errors, but Beijing seems completely indifferent when it comes to the need of protecting the environment of the ethnic regions.
This indifference is apparent if we take a careful assessment of President Xi Jinping’s commitment to peak carbon emissions by 2030. This surely is a way forward, but it means drastically reducing coal consumption. So as Grace Mang of International Rivers put it so aptly in her article ‘No need to sacrifice rivers for power’,  that the devil is in the details, and how will Beijing plan to quench the ever rising energy thirst of the world’s second largest economy?
Unfortunately, the Chinese government is set to dam and divert water from Tibetan rivers to light cities and factories in China. Like the removal of Tibetan nomads from grasslands to bring in mining, the fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau is now being put at risk to reduce smog in coastal cities of China.
The risk from 510 megawatt Zammu hydropower dam on Yarlung Tsangpo in Gyatsa county  of Southern Tibet and the 295 meter high Lianghekou dam on Nyakchu River in the Nyarong area of the eastern Tibet is simply too great. The impact on the region’s wildlife habitat and reduced river flow into the downstream areas are apparent, but the most dreadful threat would be from (RIS) Reservoir-Induced Seismic activity like the horrifying Wenchuan and Ludian earthquakes. Experts have voiced the possibility of 2008 Wenchuan earthquake (which killed 80,000 people) induced by the nearby Zipingpu Dam and the 2014 Ludian earthquake in Yunnan, which was similarly induced by the Xiluodu dam.
Sadly, China has planned more such mega dams on Tibetan rivers and destructive mining on the mountains, a rapidly surging threat on the fragile plateau.
The call for the rule of law in China by President Xi Jinping is a glimmer of hope that the laws would be enforced and the unruly state-owned companies would be disciplined. But the question is, will the new environmental protection law be equally and fairly enforced and extended into Tibet?
*The writer, Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen is a research fellow at Environment & Development Desk of the Tibet Policy Institute