MAC: Mines and Communities

New report warns of a "second invasion" of Tibet

Published by MAC on 2008-02-20

New report warns of a "second invasion" of Tibet

20th February 2008

A new report on the likely impacts of mining-related investment in Tibet claims that this "second invasion" of the country by China will "[damage] Tibet's fragile high-altitude environment, with disturbing implications for hundreds of millions of people in the entire Asian region."

China's 'Steel Dragon' in Tibet and Extractive Industries

International companies are playing a key role in China's ambitious plans to begin large-scale extraction of Tibet's mineral and other natural resources for the first time, linked to Beijing's political agenda of ensuring its control over the Tibetan people, according to new findings by the International Campaign for Tibet.

A new report by the International Campaign for Tibet reveals how the construction of the world's highest railroad across the Tibetan plateau has changed the dynamic of investment in Tibet, attracting foreign investment for the first time, to the detriment of the Tibetan people and the region's fragile high-altitude environment.

Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of the Washington, DC-based International Campaign for Tibet, said today: "Foreign companies investing in Tibet are participating in a political and strategic agenda aimed at strengthening the Chinese state's authority and control over Tibetan areas. This commercial interest coincides with a time in Tibet's history when ordinary Tibetans have no real say in decision-making on their country's future. We urge investors to implement guidelines that aim to ensure the genuine participation of Tibetans in the development of their economy."

The new US$4.1 billion rail link from Qinghai to the Tibet Autonomous Region is a quantum leap in Beijing's strategy to accelerate development of its western regions, which is one of the major dynamics of contemporary China. It has been a critical factor in consolidating foreign investment in the region, connecting Lhasa with the rest of China and bringing Beijing much closer to the goal set by Mao Zedong over 50 years ago of integrating Tibet with China.

These ambitious plans are:

• Leading to a 'second invasion' of Tibet by accelerating the influx of Chinese people;

• Causing the further exclusion of Tibetans from economic activity and displacing them from their land;

• Damaging Tibet's fragile high-altitude environment, with disturbing implications for hundreds of millions of people in the entire Asian region;

• Heightening military readiness on the Tibetan plateau through the expansion of Chinese influence and construction of civil and military transport links, causing alarm in neighboring India;

• Causing concern for the survival of Tibet's culture and religion, which is integral to Tibetan identity and important not only to Tibet, but also to China and the wider world.

Investment from China being poured into Tibet is focused, at the state's command, on the construction of long-haul infrastructure, while the provision of health care and education is neglected. This infrastructure is of benefit chiefly to extractive industries and the administrative and military apparatus of the Chinese state in Tibet.

Investment and resource extraction in Tibet

The railroad, which opened in July 2006, provides the infrastructure to facilitate the increased exploitation of Tibet's natural resources by the Chinese state and Chinese companies, as outlined in Beijing's comprehensive plans to develop its western regions, including Tibet. It has also triggered the controversial involvement of foreign companies in the region.

China's 'Western Development Strategy' is a high-profile political campaign, initiated by the then Chinese President and CCP Chairman Jiang Zemin in 1999-2000, and intended to address economic, regional, ecological, and security concerns. It is an enormous undertaking, affecting more than 70% of the PRC's land area and almost a quarter of its vast population, including Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims and other 'national minorities'. The drive is not restricted to the 10 western provinces of the PRC but includes underdeveloped provinces with large ethnic populations in other regions, especially Inner Mongolia and Guangxi.

The integration of Tibetan areas into China and exploitation of the natural resources of the Tibetan plateau have been priorities since the foundation of the PRC, and the Western Development Strategy represents an acceleration of this process.

The Chinese state media reports that the Tibetan plateau has reserves of several billion tonnes of iron ore, 30-40 million tonnes of copper, plus 40 million tonnes of lead and zinc. China is primarily interested in Tibet's reserves of gold, iron, chromite and copper. Uranium, an important material for nuclear development, is also being mined, although the sites are not made public. The Chinese authorities also recently announced that jade from Qinghai, found in an area close to the beginning of the rail link to Lhasa, would be used to make medals for the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.

Extraction of these resources is a primary motive for building the railroad, together with strengthening the state's command and control over Tibetan areas, and rests upon the state's absolute claim of ownership over Tibet. Article Nine of China's Constitution dictates that every nugget of gold mined, every lump of coal and every tree in Tibet's forests belongs to the PRC.

Previously, natural resource extraction in Tibet was limited by various factors, including Tibet's remoteness, poor infrastructure and resulting lack of interest by foreign investors. It is only now with the coming of the railroad that industrialization is properly beginning, with the beginning of large-scale mining. Investment from outside the People's Republic of China (PRC) is regarded by the Chinese authorities as crucial to the success of China's 'Western Development Strategy'.

The new report by the International Campaign for Tibet, 'Tracking the Steel Dragon: How China's economic policies and the railroad are transforming Tibet', published on February 28, 2008, explores the impact of the railroad in Tibet and proposes a way forward that could benefit Tibetans. A free electronic copy of the report is available for download at

For press inquiries, please contact Kate Saunders or Ben Carrdus at ICT, , tel: 1 202 785 1515.


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