THE LAST BLOG?

Well, maybe not.

But I do want to introduce myself, the author of all the www.rukor.org blogs, if only to say hello and goodbye.

When I started this blog a few years ago, it seemed to me that debate on Tibet was restricted to a narrow range of essential  issues: civil and political rights, religious freedom, hopes for negotiations with China, autonomy. To me, that left much, on which there was at best intermittent focus. Among the issues that seemed to need more sustained attention, analysis and then action were:

  • China’s development plans for Tibet, and their impacts on remote Tibetan communities;
  • environmental and social impacts of mineral extraction, industrial and urban growth in Tibet;
  • hydro dams and Tibetan rivers;
  • the new economy of protected areas designed to make money through carbon capture and ecotourism;
  • displacement of nomads from their pastures, settling them as fringe dwellers on the outskirts of towns in Tibet, dependent on state handout rations.

As an Australian, the nomad question had lots of resonances. White Australia made Aborigines live on missions and government settlements. The story was that this was for their own good. Aborigines, used to caring for country actively and energetically, called this “sit down money.” They were paid in flour, sugar, tea and tobacco to do nothing, or become servants of the white settlers. Sedentarised Aborigines developed the diseases of the sit down life: overweight, diabetes, dust diseases including ear infections and blindness. Even now, although Australia has at last largely learned to value and respect  Aboriginal understanding of how to care for country, the legacy of “sit down money” is hard to shake.

 

So the exclusion of Tibetan drogpa nomads from their pastoral production landscapes, in the name of modernity, progress, development, poverty alleviation, access to modern services, and carbon capture seemed familiar. It seemed like official China was  committed to making every mistake Australia had made, without noticing that, after 200 years of European settlement frequently ruining Australian lands, we have finally learned how to learn from the Aboriginal stewards and guardians of the bush, the wildlife and the arid landscapes, how we all can and must care for country.

That’s why, six years ago, I chose an obscure Tibetan word, rukor, to frame this blogspot. It literally means a circle of tents, an encampment in which several families get together, pooling herds and labour, making collective decisions by combining intimate landscape knowledge of several experienced pastoralists.

I chose rukor because it names something China has never understood: that on the grasslands, the risk management decisions essential to the sustainability of wildlife and rangelands, and to the livelihoods of the mobile nomads, are best made by a modest sized group who know the land intimately.

China, by comparison, has swung between extremes. In the revolutionary Maoist years, extreme communes were forcibly created, on far too big a scale, with the drogpa disempowered, herded like animals into barrack-style compounds where even cooking pots belonged to the commune. People got rations according to how much work they did. People starved.

By the late 1970s it was painfully obvious the communes had failed , except in one key metric: building up yak, sheep and goat herd size to unsustainable numbers. As the communes collapsed, China went to the opposite extreme, of making each individual family contractually responsible to the state to limit herding to allocated land, to fence it and build housing on it. This household responsibility system fragmented lands and families, fragmented the major risk management decisions that the rukor had done so skilfully, and reduced nomadic mobility, resulting inevitably in overgrazing, for which the nomads were then blamed. Between the extreme of large-scale communes and small-scale household contracts is the middle way of the rukor.

Six years and 160 long, hard-to-read blogs on, perhaps 350,000 words in all, what is the upshot?

That’s not really for me, the author, to judge. All I can say is that, while academics seldom read this blog, and give academic cred only to journal articles, Tibetans do read www.rukor.org, in a steadily increasing number, which says a lot about the confidence and curiosity of the new generation of young Tibetan professionals who  want to understand Tibet in greater depth, and are willing to persevere with my dense, difficult English. That, in turn, gives me great satisfaction.

 

But this is both hello and goodbye. I kept this blog anonymous so readers could focus on the issues raised, without distraction, and test for themselves whether the arguments put forward are founded in careful research, with links wherever possible to further, deeper data. The disadvantage of an anonymous blog, however, is that is discourages dialogue, as there seems to be no-one for readers to talk to. So it’s time to come out. Gabriel Lafitte is rukor.

But not for much longer. The doctors tell me I am almost certain to die soon, cancers are everywhere, despite my good fortune, as an Australian, to avail of operations, radiation, chemotherapy, the best of treatments, and in a country where treatment is free. Partly due to Rukor and your responses, I can die without regret.

That is actually why I decided to say hello, in the hope of finding, among the wonderful new generation of Tibetans, a few who might care to pick up what I shortly must leave. Whether www.rukor.org continues is not the point. What does matter is that we develop a capacity to do what rukor has tried to do: to be an early warning system for Tibetans in Tibet, alerting them as to China’s plans, tracking China’s policy announcements, not just their propaganda. We want to do what we can to help remote communities know in advance what China’s plans are, what the strengths and weaknesses of those policies and plans are, how they will impact.

That means focussing more closely on China than Tibetans usually do. When you do shift focus, you will be surprised to find how much information is out there, on official websites, in statistical yearbooks, in academic databases, in English and Chinese. Over the years I have collected at least 30,000 electronic publications relevant to Tibet, covering a wide range of topics, and donated the collection to young Tibetans in various countries, as a Tibet-focused database including entire books, chapters, dissertations, statistics, journal articles and official reports. If more copies of this database are needed, let me know and I will copy it to 32Gb memory stick and send it to you.

The hard part is shaping all that data, often not written with Tibetans in mind, into a shape that makes sense, and is useful from a Tibetan perspective.

Engaging with China, watching closely the many contradictions in China’s policy debates and political decisions, also means learning to write with Chinese readers in mind. The more I delve deeper and deeper into China’s elite debates, the more I find senior Beijing academics who quietly but firmly disagree with official policy, and say so at every opportunity. We need to not only use their research but to engage with them, build bridges, write in ways that pull no punches but could communicate, based on shared common ground.

I don’t read or speak Tibetan or Chinese, beyond a very small vocabulary of nouns. Yet I have somehow found ways of accessing information indepth, sometimes starting off with machine translation. I could explain more, if you want.

This year is for me the 40th since first meeting with Tibetans, starting (as journalists can) at the top, with an interview with Gyalwa Rinpoche in Bodhgaya in 1977. I asked him a whole bunch of dumb questions which he took seriously, thought about them for a while, and gave me such fresh answers I knew I needed to know more. I was hooked.

Over those 40 years I slowly learned how to become useful. I witnessed the Tibet movement grow and grow for 20 years, and then, over the past 20 years slowly dwindle, as many supporters grew disillusioned with an issue that never seemed to progress. Twenty years ago information gathering was much easier. British intelligence routinely intercepted and translated key Chinese broadcasts, including internal provincial broadcasts and BBC Monitoring published them. Likewise in the US the CIA did the same, published as World News Connection. Keeping close watch on China was easy.

Now there are no such central feeds, but hundreds of online sources to monitor. If you remain focused, a picture does emerge. The posts to rukor do show it is possible to grow a comprehensive picture of China’s policies, from multiple perspectives, enabling a detailed representation to emerge.

 

I may yet have time for a few more posts to rukor.org, but before long I must depart for the next life.  I feel strongly that Tibetans have given me as much as I have tried to give in return. I have learned how to live and how to die, now I must turn to practicing those good habits, so I am fully ready for dying, bardo and the next life. I have learned from great lama, also from not particularly religious Tibetans, close colleagues and friends over the years, who simply have a quiet, undramatic focus on what needs to be done, with little of the emotional roller coaster that afflicts us injis. I thank many Tibetans, who may never have thought of themselves as my teacher, yet I learned a lot just by hanging with them.

So now it is over to you, my readers, in the hope that this kind of assessment and analysis can continue. One Tibetan friend made the very practical suggestion that if we can find a dozen or 15 Tibetans, each of whom pledges to write a minimum of one blogpost a year, then we have enough to maintain the output of rukor (or whatever it may morph into). That way the burden on any individual researcher/writer is not too great. Good idea.

Over to you,

 

Gabriel Lafitte

editor@rukor.org                            glafitte1@gmail.com       +613407840333

btw: the artwork illuminating this blog is by the famous Taiwanese artist Chuang Che, who was inspired by the classic Chinese Buddhist concept of the 16 arhat/lohan/ bodhisattavas; this is his modern take on an old trope that has inspired so many artists over many centuries.

Posted in Tibet | 25 Comments

IS A RAILWAY A GIFT TO ANTELOPE BIRTHING?

EXCLUSIONS, EXEMPTIONS, SCIENTIFIC NARROWNESS, NATURE versus NOMADIC  CULTURE

Blog one of two on UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE IN TIBET:

 

June 2017:  One month before the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is due to decide the fate of a large portion of the Tibetan Plateau, documentation has been released giving us a detailed picture of what China proposes, what WHC must decide at its July 2017 meeting in Krakow, Poland, and what is at stake.

China’s nomination of Koko Shili (Hoh Xil in China’s spelling) is, on paper, all about one iconic species: the Tibetan antelope, although nowhere is it given its’ Tibetan name: tsö. Other species are mentioned too, but the Tibetan livestock producers who for decades protected the tsö from hunters are mentioned largely in passing, as a vague presence who are to be blamed for overgrazing, even in a landscape UNESCO experts call pristine.

In order to independently assess China’s voluminous (but secret) nomination papers, UNESCO WHC sent a mission to Koko Shili as the 2016 winter approached, and their lengthy reports are now online. The fine print of what they found is worth close attention, as it tells a different story to China’s master narrative. These two blogs delve into the fine print that the WHC ambassadors, assembled in Krakow 2 to 12 July 2017, will never bother to read. Unless Tibetan voices now give them reason to look beyond the bottom line recommendations.

EXEMPTING THE LHASA RAILWAY FROM THE PROTECTED AREA

Rukor readers may recall from previous blogs on Koko Shili in October 2016 and May 2017 that China has carefully defined the boundaries of the proposed World Heritage area with a railway/highway/ultra-high voltage grid/optical fibre cabling and oil pipeline running right through the middle of it, for the full 250 kms north to south traverse.

This is no accident. If China was solely concerned with protection of the Tibetan antelopes, it would have included their full migratory range, for a species whose pregnant females travel great distances to give birth safe from predators, across provincial boundaries beyond Qinghai, in both Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous Region. However, many of those birthing grounds are not part of this plan, even though the UNESCO experts rather wish they were included, but aren’t about to insist.

The rail/highway/power grid/telecoms/oil pipeline is proudly known in China as the Qinghai-Tibet Engineering Corridor (QTEC), a triumph of man over nature. Now, from a close reading of UNESCO documentation, we discover that QTEC is not technically part of the proposed World Heritage area, except as vaguely designated “buffer zone.”  This exemption has not been disclosed before. To be precise, the entire 250 kms of QTEC as it slices across Koko Shili is now defined as being four kilometres wide, probably two kms either side, excluding UNESCO from any power to limit human use, as the huge trucks en route to Lhasa thunder by. The migrating female antelopes will have to navigate across QTEC without protection.

This is not the first time China has cleverly excluded economic production zones from the heart of “protected areas” in Tibet given UNESCO’s approval and brand equity. In the Three Parallel Rivers protected area of Yunnan, the actual rivers are excluded from the defined protected area, allowing China to now proceed with hydro dam construction, power grid construction and other development. UNESCO made that mistake in 2002, and has regretted it ever since. But whenever UNESCO protests about dam and power grid construction, China says: none of your business.

CHINA CONQUERS PERMAFROST MELT

Anyone who has taken the train to Lhasa knows the entire route is elevated, on high embankments and bridges, essential to maintaining a steady temperature in a land of seasonal permafrost. This engineering necessity succeeds in keeping frozen earth frozen, and the rail track safe from slumping dangerously in the intense Tibetan sunshine. It took China’s railway engineers decades to design those embankments and bridges, a great achievement they boast about in dozens of articles in obscure journals such as Cold Regions Engineering.

Those high embankments and to an extent the many bridges are a barrier to the free migration of the pregnant tsö antelopes seeking their safe calving ground. The antelopes have learned, from the intrusion of Chinese gold rush miners in the 1980s, to fear humans, even though wild antelope herds historically mingled unhindered with Tibetan nomad domestic herds. So now we have a 4km wide QTEC corridor right in the heart of a World Heritage protected area, over which UNESCO, if they rubber-stamp China’s nomination, will have no control over.

The experts UNESCO sent to Koko Shili make clear they aren’t happy with this 4 kms wide zone of exemption, but the bottom line is they don’t insist on making UNESCO approval conditional on the inclusion of QTEC. Once China implements its plans for a massive domestic safari tourism industry in QTEC –as has happened in other UNESCO World Heritage sites in Tibet, notably Jiuzhaigou, UNESCO will be helpless to protest.

The UNESCO experts restrict their critique to the fine print. The actual recommendations for decision impose no such conditions. Very few people will ever read the fine print, including the ambassadors from the 21 states currently on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, who need only to know what decision is recommended, and vote for it. The nearest the experts come to dismay is to state: “These buffer areas that are internal to the property are covered by the same legislation as the rest of the Nature Reserves, and in principle IUCN considers it would benefit the protection of the property if these areas were eventually to be added to be part of the inscribed property, rather than remaining as buffer zones. Whilst noting both scopes to further improve buffer arrangements, and to also consider future extensions to the area currently nominated, IUCN considers that the boundaries of the nominated property meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines.”

“No monitoring of the animal mortality due to the highway (and other corridor infrastructure) is in place to assess this impact, and no management response is currently being undertaken for other species. The traffic on the highway is growing due to development occurring in the Tibet Province, and the road will remain a conflict in the future if relevant management responses are not met.”

In many ways, the experts sent by UNESCO did a great job, mindful that both UNESCO and its science partner the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) express great concern for indigenous communities, local conservation, participation, joint management of protected areas, and all the jargon of cultural inclusion. Even though china repeatedly insists that Koko Shili is “no-man’s land”, the UNESCO experts did identify precisely how many Tibetans remain in the area scheduled for World Heritage status.

A NO-MAN’S LAND RUN BY CHINA’S MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT

The IUCN TECHNICAL EVALUATION QINGHAI HOH XIL (CHINA) – ID N° 1540, as it is formally called, is the result of ten days in Koko Shili, by the former director of the WWF Mongolia office, Chimed-Ochir Bazarsad, and a Swiss-based scientist, Carlo Ossola. Bazarsad and Ossola investigated in depth, even if they stop short of requiring China’s compliance with IUCN and UNESCO’s professed standards.

They met not only with officials responsible for running wildlife protection programs, but “a wide range of stakeholders including national level officials from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.” This is crucial, since the entire Koko Shili proposal, located in alpine wilderness “no-man’s land” is owned by the Beijing-based Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MHURD), not by a conservation or environmental protection agency. In remote areas MHURD owns and runs scenic spots suitable for development as tourism destinations, a clear sign of what China has in mind. MHURD’s main job is in the cities, worrying about real estate booms, property speculators, and the danger of the bubble bursting. However, MHURD will remain in charge in “no-man’s land”. UNESCO tells us: “According to the Conservation Regulation of the Hoh Xil Natural Heritage Area in Qinghai Province, adopted by the Standing Committee of Qinghai Provincial People’s Congress, valid from October 2016, an administrative authority for the nominated property will be set up under the Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of Qinghai Province to assume protection and management responsibility for the property.”

“No-man’s land” notwithstanding, this huge area is populated by those Tibetans not already removed to a distant urban fate, by decree. The evaluation report states: “According to the nomination, there are 35 households of 156 herders within the nominated property, and 222 households of 985 herders and 250 other residents in the buffer zone. The activities of nomadic herders are a long-standing and traditional use in the property, and has coexisted with the nature conservation values. The level of involvement of the local communities and users in the preparation of the nomination proposal seems limited and unstructured. The management plan elaborates a section on community involvement and development, including a pilot programme for participative management approaches in Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve, and there is involvement of local communities in monitoring activities. The nomination refers to overgrazing, and the introduction of new grazing activities as threats and notes that grassland deterioration and desertification is observed as a result of overgrazing in some parts of the Soja-Qumar sub-zone.”

BLAMING THE NOMADS

This immediate slide, from population numbers to accusations of overgrazing, is standard rhetoric of a Chinese state that has never understood the logic of pastoralism, and defines any and all grazing as a loss of biomass, and therefore a danger. In almost the same breath, the remaining human population of Tibetans is introduced, and labelled criminal.

Many conservationists worldwide are willing to believe this, despite the lack of evidence; and the new evidence that climate change is making this land wetter, warmer and more productive. It has long been inbuilt to the science of ecology that humans are not part of the ecosystem, are additional, and by definition a threat. This is classic dualistic thinking, either/or, zero/sum approach in contrast to the productive Tibetan assumption that out on the rangelands there is plenty of room for wild animals, domestic animals, grass and water.

UNESCO’s expert evaluation mission is somewhat worried about China’s approach: “Currently the nature reserves are responsible for controlling grazing activities, and the nomination notes that across the large part of the property, the management agency will ‘gradually impose a ban on herding among sparse residences in the resettlement area and further consider specific voluntary resettlement policies, locations, compensation mechanisms and other measures that can promote the wellbeing of the resettlements.’ Herders in the buffer zone are being engaged in grassland conservation and livestock reduction policies, and local herders have been organized to participate in the conservation practices. The evaluation mission heard concern within the local population regarding being displaced or resettled as a result of the nomination process and outcomes, and several reviewers raised the issue as of concern. IUCN considers that it is imperative that questions of rights, access and traditional use are addressed rigorously and carefully by the State Party [China], in full consultation, and the World Heritage nomination must not be used to justify any deprivation of traditional land use rights of the concerned communities.  In response to concerns raised, the State Party has stated unequivocally that there will be no forced relocation or exclusion of the traditional users of the nominated site, whether before or after succeeding in the application for World Heritage site.”

 

Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment

ERASING NOMADS AND MEMORY OF PASTORAL PRODUCTIVE LANDSCAPES

EXCLUSIONS, EXEMPTIONS, SCIENTIFIC NARROWNESS, NATURE versus NOMADIC  CULTURE

Blog two of two on UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE IN TIBET:

 

What the World Heritage experts have failed to notice is that most of the Tibetans were removed well before the World Heritage nomination process began, specifically to the Chinese petrochemical industrial city of Gormo, hundreds of kms to the north.

Nomad removals have been implemented since the start of this century, in the name of tuimu huancao, watershed protection for China’s great rivers. It is already too late for worrying about “deprivation of traditional land use rights of the concerned communities.” Most of the nomads, who worked so hard to protect antelopes from slaughter, have already been removed, and officially inspected by core leader Xi Jinping on his 2016 inspection tour of Qinghai province and the city of Gormo.

Xi Jinping declared their resettlement, in concrete blocks on either side of the highway into Gormo, a success. He was photographed being greeted by smiling Tibetans who are now utterly dependent on state handouts, having totally lost their livelihoods.

The experts did notice that grazing pressure has reduced, especially in the eastern portion of the proposed World heritage area, in what China calls the Sanjiangyuan, or Three River Source area, which has long supported Tibetan populations. The experts, however, tend to see this through China’s gaze: “Intensive grazing and human-wildlife conflict is also a current threat in part of the property, within Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve. Sheep and cattle compete with wildlife for food and heavy grazing can cause the degradation of the grassland ecosystem. The government has an effective policy for reducing animal husbandry offering incentives and compensation to not graze the land to the relevant households. The IUCN mission understood that grazing intensity has fallen substantially in the last years, and thus it is recommended that this present policy is continued.” Yet again, the assumption that humans and grass are in contradiction is inbuilt in China’s approach, and often in the science of ecology.

NATURE/CULTURE

The IUCN/UNESCO experts focus almost entirely on the “natural values” of this pristine “no-man’s land”, as that is the basic category of classification for which China has applied. UNESCO sharply divides its World Heritage sites in two categories, natural and cultural. Seldom is a protected property classified as both, though there is no reason why a protected area cannot be both. Indeed, the major Chinese Buddhist pilgrimage mountains of China are classified as both natural and cultural World Heritage, at China’s request.

After many thousands of words, the experts sent by UNESCO do get around to briefly considering the culture of this depopulated but huge chunk of the Tibetan Plateau, the size of Denmark and Netherlands combined. “The IUCN mission noted that, in addition to the traditional grazing practices, there are tangible and intangible cultural attributes within the nominated property, including sacred mountains and sites, of local and national significance. Every village has its sacred places and some of them are inside the property and the buffer zone, mainly prayer sites linked to natural features like caves, hills or mountains.”

Because Kokoshili and the Sanjiangyuan are traditionally sacred, local Tibetan environmentalists, inspired by their experience working with global NGO Conservation International, have been calling for the area to be declared a Sacred Natural Site, under community control. That way they would have an ongoing role as guardians and stewards of land and animals, able to continue what an earlier Tibetan generation died for, to protect the antelopes. That story is movingly told both in film and print, in the 2015 book Tibetan Environmentalists in China, and in the 2004 hit movie Kekexili: Mountain Patrol. Both come from Chinese writers who fully entered into a Tibetan worldview, enabling audiences to understand Tibetan sacred natural sites through Tibetan eyes.

When it comes to the crunch, having raised Tibetan culture as inherent to wildlife conservation, UNESCO’s experts merely say: “IUCN notes that the cultural and spiritual values of the area should be recognized and included in planning management strategies for the nominated property, noting the intimate linkage they have with the nature conservation values that are the basis for the nomination.”  China has much experience in brushing aside such vague suggestions.

AMNESIA MAKES ROOM TO BRING THE STATE BACK IN

China now brushes aside its own history of community conservation, with Tibetans at the forefront.  If we turn the clock back less than 15 years, it was a very different story, with Tibetan rangers celebrated as heroes of China’s lawless wild west, by Chinese citizens all over China. The movement to save the Tibetan antelopes from slaughter by immigrant Chinese miners/poachers was a citizens movement, led by Tibetans, celebrated throughout China, a highpoint of popular solidarity uniting Tibetans and Han Chinese alike, in common cause.

This is best captured in the 2004 hit movie Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, and in a book published in English, also in 2004, by the Chinese government’s Foreign Languages Publishing House, Tracking down Tibetan Antelopes. In 160 pages of glossy colour photos, both the antelopes and the Tibetans are lyrically embraced as China’s darlings. In the last words of the book: “No animal has ever aroused as much attention among the Chinese people as the Tibetan antelope. Numerous people are concerned about this endangered species, and offer to help in various forms. Some have even died for this cause. The efforts to protect the Tibetan antelope form the most heroic and stirring page in China’s history of wild animal protection.”

This citizens’ movement showed up the state as missing in action, a deep embarrassment for a state determined, above all, to stamp its sovereignty on lands it had conquered centuries ago but had never effectively ruled. Even as this century began, China had yet to make its empire into a nation. That had to be rectified, by bringing the state back in, as sole actor, sole agent, sole authority, disempowering everyone else.

China’s nomination of Koko Shili as exclusive property of the state, with the blessings of UNESCO World Heritage, is the culmination of more than a decade of placing the state in command, displacing everyone else, starting with the disbanding of the Tibetan Wild Yak Team of ranger patrols.

Only one year after the antelopes and their Tibetan protectors were celebrated across China as heroes, the tone changed. In 2005, Beijing Youth Daily, an organ of the Communist Party’s youth league, announced that national interest was at stake. Koko Shili is the source of China’s greatest river, the Yangtze, and that water source must be fully protected from all threats, especially nomadic Tibetans, who were depicted solely in negative terms: “The no-man’s land of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, known to Chinese and foreign scholars as “the world’s highest natural zoo”, has more than 40 national grade-1 and grade-2 protected animals, including the Tibetan donkey, wild yak, snow leopards and black-necked cranes, and at present it has some of the fewest developed areas in the world. It is also an important environmental protection area and water source for our country, with numerous rivers and lakes. The Mother River of the Chinese Peoples – The Yangtze – also rises in this area.”

Having invoked the national interest, it was a short step to depict Tibetans as an irrational, mobile, unpredictable danger: “Liu Wulin, Principal of the TAR Forestry Research Institute and an expert in wildlife, said that aside from the large numbers encroaching on the two nature preservation areas of the Qiangtang and Kekexili, another 100,000 km2 of “no-man’s land” outside of the two protection areas also has nomads in residence or human activity. The latest survey shows: 392 people, 7200 head of cattle and more than 40,000 sheep have moved into the protection area. As was seen during a visit to this area, there are already nomads living around the 5000m-high Fenghuo Mountain pass, with more than 1000 sheep and more than 200 yaks put out to graze on the mountain slopes. At a place along the 3146 km Qinghai-Tibet Highway, there were also nomads who had put out more than a thousand head of livestock. Buqiong said that at present there are already more than 400 nomad families living within the protected area, primarily concentrated around the Nuola, Mayi and Qiangma Cuo areas. The population of the Twin Lakes Office is already more than 10,000 people, and there is human activity in more than 100,000 km2 of the uninhabited area.”[1]

For the sake of China as a nation-state, what is pristine “no-man’s land” must remain pristine, not contaminated by the presence of Tibetans. From 2005 to China’s 2016  nomination of Koko Shili as World heritage, in a 200 page nomination document using the term “no-man’s land” countless times, is a direct line.

In this new narrative, inconvenient truths were ignored. It mattered little that some of the nomads who moved into Koko Shili had done so at the directive of officials, implementing policies to spread grazing pressure and enhance pastoral production. It mattered little that the nomads had been required to build fences, which now impede wildlife migrations. It was not only the celebration of Tibetan rangers that was swept aside, so too were earlier official policies.

Today, in 2017, amnesia reigns. Mandatory amnesia (known in Chinese communist jargon as avoiding historical nihilism) is common in today’s China. The patriotic Chinese students who flocked to Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protest corruption and make China great again, may not be mentioned. The Tibetans of Koko Shili and Drito who, in the absence of the state, confronted and captured the antelope poachers, are similarly erased from memory.

There is however, a single exception. Of the Tibetans whose ranger patrolling saved the antelopes from extinction, one name stands out, the martyr Sonam Dargye. In classic Chinese fashion, his image has been appropriated, his memorial made a shrine, his memory a tourist magnet. In his death, he magically became Chinese, a hero of China’s determination to save the antelopes, which the state now inherits, with the blessing of World Heritage branding. Sonam Dargyey (Soinam Darje in Chinese) lives eternally as a feature of China’s Hoh Xil World Heritage. If conquering Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan can be made into Chinese emperors, it is not too hard to make Sonam Dargyey a hero of state protection of “no-man’s land.”

HOW MANY TIBETAN NOMADS HAVE BEEN REMOVED?

Although UNESCO has sent its own IUCN mission to Koko Shili, and in June issued a further 11,000 words reporting their findings and recommendations, UNESCO’s biggest failing is in not noticing that, well before China nominated Koko Shili, most of the nomads had been removed to the outskirts of industrial Gormo city. There is not much point in now talking (vaguely) of indigenous rights when most of the Tibetan population of the whole area, in compliance with explicit policies announced in 2003, has already been removed.

Can we know how many Tibetan pastoral nomads have been excluded from their pastures, to lead aimless lives on the urban fringes of Gormo? Administratively, the nominated World Heritage area is largely to the east of Koko Shili, and includes the counties of Drito (Zhiduo in Chinese) and Chumarleb (Qumalai in Chinese) as well as Koko Xili (Hoh Xil or Kekexili in Chinese). This administrative spread is noted by the UNESCO evaluation mission, which enumerates the staff numbers designated as wildlife protection officers as 49 in Drito, 49 in Chumarleb and 37 in Koko Shili. We also have current population figures for “no-man’s land” revealed in China’s nomination: “According to the nomination, there are 35 households of 156 herders within the nominated property, and 222 households of 985 herders and 250 other residents in the buffer zone.”

That is a total of 1391 humans, all Tibetan, living in the 75,000 sq kms designated for World Heritage status. If we consult China’s official Year 2000 Census, we discover the Tibetan population of Drito county was then 23,407; in Chumarleb county 23,601. This strongly suggests China first removed most of the Tibetan nomads, and only then initiated the UNESCO World Heritage nomination process.

Touchingly, China (the State Party in UN jargon) has  reassured the IUCN Hoh Xil evaluation mission that the few remaining nomads will not be coercively removed: “In response to concerns raised, the State Party has stated unequivocally that there will be no forced relocation or exclusion of the traditional users of the nominated site, whether before or after succeeding in the application for World Heritage site.”

 

[1] http://news.xinhuanet.com/st/2005-09/06/content_3448651.htm      可可西里保护区被大量侵占 青藏高原无人区锐减   Kekexili protection area encroached by large numbers, no-man’s land of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau falling   2005年09月06日 08:21:00  来源:北京青年报  September 6, 2005. Source: Beijing   Youth Daily

Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment

KOKOSHILI/HOH XIL

NATURAL AND CULTURAL WORLD HERITAGE in KOKOSHILI/HOH XIL:

TIBET’S EMPTY QUARTER OR HUMAN LANDSCAPE?

Blog 1 of 2 on the decision facing UNESCO World Heritage Committee in the first week of July 2017

A remote, high, frigid land of lakes on the Tibetan Plateau is about to become news, thrust forward by China’s nomination of Kokoshili to be made UNESCO World Heritage.

Surely global protection is good? Unfortunately, that common sense response doesn’t always match well with how things turn out. If the iconic wild animals of Kokoshili are protected, while the human protectors are excluded, that’s not good. But that is what China proposes.f

What is this unknown “empty quarter” of Tibet? Why has China singled out what it calls “no-man’s land” for global prominence? China depicts it as alpine desert, yet it teems with lakes, wetlands and wildlife, including the iconic Tibetan antelopes, snow leopards, bears and wild yaks. China proclaims itself the protector of these iconic species, yet under China’s control the number of antelopes plunged from one million to as few as 65,000. They were protected only by the Tibetan nomads of Kokoshili and nearby pastures risking –and losing- their lives to protect the nimble tsö antelopes from the slaughter of hunters making fortunes from their downy underfur.

KOKOSHILI: A HUMAN LANDSCAPE

Tibetan communities of the arid pastoral landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau urge the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, its scientific advisers and member states to reconsider China’s nomination of what it calls Hoh Xil (in Tibetan: Kokoshili), to become a World Heritage natural landscape property. A decision on China’s nomination is due early July, on the agenda of a World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow, Poland.

Classifying this huge seasonal pasture land solely as natural landscape, with no cultural value, betrays the heroic efforts of Tibetans to protect the endangered wildlife of Kokoshili and the adjacent counties of Drito, Chumarleb and Zato, much of which China has mapped into the proposed Kokoshili World Heritage site.

For the past 30 years the Tibetans of these remote areas have worked to protect both landscapes and iconic wildlife species, while seasonally grazing their herds of sheep and yaks, which have always intermingled freely with the wild antelopes and gazelles. In three decades of campaigning for the animals, sacred mountains and innumerable lakes of this land of frigid lakes, Tibetans have risked their lives to detain poachers, and lost lives to violent hunters and gold miners. The poachers were mostly poor Chinese Muslims. When the central state did little or nothing to protect natural resources, the Tibetans risked all. Yet now China insists the area nominated is “no-man’s land”, with no human presence at all, and so no local communities as stakeholders. This is a tragic misrepresentation.

 

A HISTORY OF HUMAN USE AND WILD HERDS INTERMINGLED

The nominated area is as big as Denmark and Netherlands combined, 75,000 sq. kms used as seasonal pasture by Tibetan livestock producers for millennia, their ongoing, skilful, sustainable and productive land use ending only in very recent years, due to their compulsory removal by state power relocating them to lead useless lives in concrete camps positioned along the highway to Lhasa, just outside of the petrochemical city of Gormo, far north of their ancestral pastures.

The Tibetan communities who seasonally pasture their yaks and sheep, alongside the migratory tsö, the Tibetan antelope (pantholops hodgsonii, widely called chiru), move their herds in summer, when monsoon rains bring grasses to flourish, know this land intimately. Back in 1898 a Canadian missionary traversing Kokoshili en route to Lhasa described how she found her way through snowstorms by looking for the lhatse cairns of stones at each pass across the hills, sacred sites dedicated to the local deity protectors of the land, to whom Tibetan travellers always make offerings. What Dr. Susie Rijnhart experienced in 1896 is true today, but many of the nomads have now been relocated, without choice, north to the heavy industrial city of Gormo, where they were inspected by Xi Jinping in August 2016.

Canadian missionary Susie Rijnhart found Tibetan drogpa nomads, with their yak herds, living in Kokoshili, as in all other areas of Tibet, pasturing their animals: “Suddenly we saw some white tents, and on nearer approach discovered there were fourteen of them, having about 1500 yak and many horses. We were received in a very friendly manner by the travellers, most of them knowing us. Though they wanted us to camp beside them, we went on to ford the waters. The sensation of camping across the river from friends was peculiar. The tents on the opposite bank looked like a town, but in the morning every vestige of the recent inhabitants with dwellings was gone, and we were again alone.” [1] Kokoshili –and all Tibet- was a land without fences, in which wild and domestic herds mingled unhindered, and wild animals seldom feared human presence.

 

MAKING A NO-MAN’S LAND: A 21st CENTURY TRAGEDY

Now, the antelopes are starting to come back, but many of the nomads are gone. The state has taken over, erasing almost all memory of community conservation effort, other than ritually honouring  the martyr Sonam Dargye, who, in death has become China’s Soinam or Suonam Darje. All else is veiled by official amnesia, as if it never happened.

The Tibetans foresaw what would happen. In a debate almost 20 years ago, in the remote village of Sokya (Suojia in Chinese), inside the proposed Kokoshili World Heritage site the local pastoralists debated the future with Tador,  the first son of Sokya to get a university education, who had returned to his village as local party secretary. As journalist Liu Jianqiang tells it: “There was no medical service, no highways nor electricity. Suojia was caught in the middle of a net formed by  the four big rivers of Mochu, Yamchu, Damchu and Jichu. Half the year, water isolated it from the outside world. ‘Wild ass and marmot are our specialities’ Tador replied. ‘We’ve got no minerals and no caterpillar fungus [for income]. Our cattle can’t be shipped out. Therefore in Suojia  -including Kokoshili- our only specialty is wild animals.’ Wild and rare animals are abundant in Suojia: Tibetan antelopes, snow leopards, Tibetan wild ass, black-necked cranes. Tador said, ‘We can establish wild animal zoos here just like in Africa. Our country may not care for us, but may care for the animals. When it’s time to care for the animals, they will have to care for us. If we successfully protect Suojia, they will invest to solve our livelihood issues when the government establishes nature reserves. Party Secretary Sonam [Dargye] was sacrificed for the protection of Tibetan antelopes. We’ll continue his work.’” [2]

Successive Tibetans persisted in this difficult work, sometimes as local government officials, sometimes by setting up the first ever Tibetan environmental NGOs, sometimes with support from international NGOs from Hong Kong, Europe and the US, including Conservation International.

What these farsighted Tibetans did not expect was that, in the name of watershed management and growing more grass, many would be resettled far from home on the fringes of an industrial city, with no vocational education enabling entry into the industrial economy, no access to ancestral land, no mobility and no use for their deep understanding of how to live and thrive in a water meadow land of lakes ideal for yaks, sheep and horses, in which jeeps only bog. While the displaced nomads are reduced to dependence on state rations, in new concrete settlements, their lands  are now solely governed by a sovereign state that has never understood or appreciated this vast landscape of frozen lakes in winter and permafrost summer melt into wetland and water meadow.

REINVENTING SAFARI TOURISM FOR CHINA’S MASSES

China argues that this is a wilderness, a “no-man’s land” ripe for modernity, specifically for mass domestic tourism based on the romance of being the first humans to conquer “no-man’s land”.

This “untouched” wilderness in fact has running right through it, for 250 kms, the Qinghai-Tibet Engineering Corridor (QTEC), as China proudly calls it, a corridor of highways, railways, oil pipelines, optical fibre cabling and ultra-high voltage power grid, from north to south. The portion designated to become World Heritage, far from being remote, has not only a 250 kms engineering corridor through it,  but also 13 railway stations built solely as viewing platforms to take iconic shots of iconic species, if the train stops for a photo opportunity. As the antelopes flee, the train seldom stops at these desolate platforms.

The boundaries drawn by China’s nomination to UNESCO place this QTEC in the middle of the designated property. China has no wildlife adventure safari trekking tourism yet, but that is the plan.

The wild migratory antelope herds must cross QTEC, especially the pregnant females seeking the safety of remote birthing grounds where there are few predators. The high embankments built to keep the railway line temperature stable are a major barrier.

While China’s nomination denies all human presence, it focuses strongly on the tsö antelopes, as if the biodiversity conservation of this iconic species was the entire purpose of seeking World Heritage status. Some key questions: what is China’s record so far on conserving this highly migratory species? What has been the role of Tibetan communities of livestock herders in protecting the tsö over the centuries, and right up to this century? Who has stronger motivation to conserve both biodiversity and habitat: the state or the communities?

WILL WORLD HERITAGE PROTECT HABITAT?

The logic of China’s mapping, placing the engineering corridor front and centre, has nothing to do with effective habitat protection, which would require a bigger area, in three provinces.

The habitat of the tsö/chiru/pantholops hodgsonii covers a much bigger area than China’s proposal, which is restricted to the province of Qinghai. The antelopes know no provincial boundaries, ranging freely, by season, across three provinces, wintering in Qinghai and Tibet Autonomous Region, migrating north into the Arjin Shan mountains of Xinjiang each summer to give birth and care for their young, far from wolves and snow leopards. The birthing grounds are so remote that wildlife biologists only discovered their location this century.

The mapping of the proposed World Heritage area excludes a massive cobalt deposit.[3]

IN CHINA’S TIBET, WHO SLAUGHTERED THE ANTELOPES?

The decline from one million of the agile, highly mobile tsö antelopes,  down to as few as 65,000 in the 1990s, happened entirely in the years of China’s rule, since the 1950s. Chinese soldiers, stationed across Tibet to quell uprisings, bored, underfed and isolated, shot antelopes from their jeeps. Tibetans were powerless to stop them.

In the 1980s, with the opening up of China, this frontier zone experienced a gold rush, as thousands of poor Chinese Muslims poured across the river beds of this “no-man’s land” seeking flecks of alluvial gold. Again, there was little the Tibetans could do to stop them, as local county governments encouraged them, or were paid off to look away.

 

The gold miners hunted the antelopes, just for their downy underbelly fur, to be sold illegally for the manufacture of superlight shahtoosh luxury shawls.  Kokoshili was a wild west, beyond the frontier, where the desperate and the ruthless could take what they wanted, and the rule of law was absent. Kokoshili had become “the playing field of bandits, ruffians and gangsters. Gangsters illegally occupied large tracts of land. Then they sent out rumours the land was full of gold, selling fake licences to the peasants, charging each five hundred yuan. If anyone refused to pay, they would be killed to set an example for the others.”[4]

It was only in the 1990s that a small bunch of Tibetans based in Drito, distressed at the slaughter, formed a posse to hunt the hunters. Although they were determined to confront the Chinese Muslim miner/hunters, what legal authority did they have? The rangers were based in Drito just east of Kokoshili, a county (and town) whose Tibetan name means source of the Yangtze River (Dri Chu in Tibetan). Kokoshili, to the west, was where they had always taken their herds in summer, when the rains filled the many lakes and rivers, grass grows abundantly, and the nomads know how to live skilfully off uncertainty in a marginal environment. For most of the year, Kokoshili is not only dry but very cold, with permafrost freezing what moisture remains in the soils of this land of lakes and riverheads. Summer brings not only monsoon rains, but melts the permafrost, making many areas boggy. Only the skilled, experienced nomads can navigate this land.

Kokoshili is so remote and, in Chinese eyes, so unattractive, it was not even designated as a county, despite its size.  By default it was technically administered by the distant industrial city of Gormo and the even further distant provincial capital of Xining. In the official gaze of the state, it was a blank, a lacuna, where jeeps sink into bogs, conquerable only by massive investments, such as a railway raised high above the plain on embankments and bridges for its entire transit.

The antelopes faced a short path to extinction, which local Tibetan communities were helpless to prevent, despite thousands of years of wild and domestic herds intermingling, as nomads took their sheep, goats and yaks into Kokoshili every summer to graze. Then in the 1990s, a miracle happened: the Tibetans on the eastern fringes of Kokoshili mobilised, inspiring a worldwide movement of environmentalists inspired by the heroism of the Tibetan rangers, successfully halting and reversing the slide to extinction. That is the story of the next blog.

 

 

 

[1] Susie C. Rijnhart, With the Tibetans in tent and temple,1904, 241 online via: https://archive.org/details/withtibetansinte00rijn

[2] Liu Jianqiang, Tibetan Environmentalists in China, Lexington, 2015, 222

[3] Chengyou Feng,, Wenjun Qu, Dequan Zhang, Re–Os dating of pyrite from the Tuolugou stratabound Co(Au) deposit, eastern Kunlun Orogenic Belt, northwestern China, Ore Geology Reviews 36 (2009) 213–220

[4] Liu Jianqiang, Tibetan Environmentalists in China, Lexington, 2015, 96

Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment

EMPTY QUARTER OR HUMAN LANDSCAPE?

KOKOSHILI/HOH XIL:

TIBET’S EMPTY QUARTER OR HUMAN LANDSCAPE?

NATURAL AND CULTURAL WORLD HERITAGE

 

Blog 2 of 2 on the decision facing UNESCO World Heritage Committee in the first week of July 2017

 

The inspiring example of Tibetans determined to protect wildlife as fellow sentient beings created a worldwide movement to stop animal slaughter. It is that Tibetan campaign to save the tsö antelopes that China now wants us to forget, denying even that Kokoshili is a human landscape. China demands amnesia about the brave Tibetans who 25 years ago halted the massacre, insisting that Kokoshili is a “no-man’s land” with no human presence, a wildlife wilderness untouched by human hand, awaiting discovery by today’s railway tourists.

Fortunately, despite official amnesia, there is a rich record of how Tibetans led a campaign to save the antelopes, and inspired a global civil society movement, with almost no government involvement.

We are also fortunate that this popular movement inspired ordinary Chinese people, resulting in rich documentation, telling the story of the Tibetan Wild Yak Brigade of wildlife rangers, from a Tibetan viewpoint. Two Chinese storytellers, movie director Lu Chuan and journalist Liu Jianqiang both moved fully into seeing the world, including Kokoshili, through Tibetan eyes, and gave us deeply moving accounts, from a Tibetan viewpoint.

Lu Chuan’s movie Kekexili: Mountain patrol came out in 2004, the same year a Chinese government publisher put out a deeply sympathetic photojournalism book by wildlife photographer Xi Zhinong.[1] Liu Jianqiiang’s story of the Tibetan wildlife rangers was published in Chinese in 2010 and in English in 2015. Through them, we can know so much about a China that was able to deeply connect and respect Tibetans. This blog draws on those insider narratives.

 

A POPULAR WORLD WIDE TIBETAN-LED MASS MOVEMENT SAVED THE ANTELOPES FROM EXTINCTION

In the early 1990s it was official policy to encourage even remote areas to take whatever opportunity there might be to get rich, to set up small enterprises based on local strengths; and  a Western Working Commission was announced, for the development of Kokoshili. The Tibetans determined to risk their lives protecting the antelopes saw a slim chance, and took it. In 1993 they became the Western Working Commission, a job no-one else wanted, headed by local Communist Party secretary Sonam Dargye.

He was ahead of his time. Today we do talk of markets and payments for environmental services, but not then. Officially the Western Working Commission was to somehow bring development to Kokoshili. Party secretary Sonam Dargye, one of the first generation of Tibetans with a modern education, was keen on development. But first the resources of Kokoshili being plundered had to be protected, and an Office of Wildlife Protection became part of the work of the Western Working Commission. For the first time, Tibetans had legal authority to arrest poachers and hand them over to police, but almost no budget, and a contract with Drito county providing minimal funding for just one year, after which they were on their own.

That was a slender legal basis to deal with 30,000 gold feverish immigrants, armed and used to slaughter. Yet ranger Sonam Dargye and his Tibetan colleagues did stop the massacre, and became national heroes, known across China for their courage in standing up to violence.  Chinese photographers, journalists and film makers came to document their efforts, sparking a popular movement. Chinese and international environmental NGOs became involved.

On the ground, the long and dangerous patrols of the Wild Yak Brigade, as they called themselves, succeeded in slowing the slaughter of the antelopes, and capturing the popular imagination. All over China, people wanted to help them succeed. In distant Tianjin, on the coast beyond Beijing, a TV station held a telethon fund raiser to buy jeeps and fuel for the Wild Yak Brigade. Dancers in costume inspired by antelopes staged dance performances.

Global NGOs campaigned to stop the shahtoosh shawl trade based on the massacre of Tibetan antelopes.

These successes were an embarrassment to China’s government, a shameful admission that the rule of law, of a sovereign state, did not reach the badlands. Until the Wild Yak Brigade Kokoshili was a lawless frontier.

The more widely ordinary Chinese people celebrated the heroism of the Wild Yak Brigade, the more the state lost face. In 2001, the Brigade was abruptly terminated, its powers transferred to the Administration Bureau of the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve, which on paper was created in 1995, the bureaucratic source of the current World Heritage nomination. By then Sonam Dargye was seven years dead, shot by a poacher. Other Tibetans stepped in to persist with the dangerous frontier work.

By the time the Wild Yak Brigade/Western Working Commission was abolished, urban China had been mobilised in support, a conference on trade in endangered species had been held, movie maker Le Chuan was making his re-enactment of the rangers’exploits, which became the 2004 hit movie Kekexili: Mountain Patrol. [2]

Wildlife conservationists worldwide took up the cause. In India, in order to outlaw the luxury shahtoosh shawl industry, Wildlife Trust of India first proved Tibetan antelopes also live in Ladakh, in India’s far north, making it an Indian animal entitled to legal protection. Celebrities were mobilised to post videos calling on their followers to refrain from buying shahtoosh shawls.

The decline in the number of antelopes slaughtered was achieved not by governments, treaties and formal ascription of World Heritage status; but by a global mobilisation of civil society, uniting Tibetan rangers on the frontline with European celebs warning that shahtoosh shawls, once cool, are now toxic. It was this ad hoc coalition of NGOs, wildlife campaigners and frontline Tibetan rangers that made shahtoosh the shawl of shame, and halted the extinction of the tsö antelopes. The turning point was the 1999 gathering of all parties, in the Qinghai capital, Xining. The resulting Xining Declaration insists on local community involvement in all future antelope protection programs.[3] By 2016 the Tibetan antelope was taken off the IUCN Red List of endangered species, though it is still listed as near threatened. Community based conservation, connecting high end fashionistas and Tibetan badlands rangers, had saved the tsö from extinction.[4]

Chinese and Tibetans had joined in partnership, and the slaughter came to almost a complete end. In 2010 Liu Jianqiang published in Chinese  a booklength insider account of the heroism of the rangers, with an English translation in 2015. [5] The full story is available to all. It is full of the voices of the Tibetans of this “no-man’s land”, passionately debating how best to protect it.

Since then, the state has taken over. On paper it is committed not only to rebuilding the Tibetan antelope herd, but to protecting the entire habitat, and the many other endemic species, including snow leopards, brown bears and wild yaks. The state alone is in charge. This does not mean, however, the state has coherent or consistent policies for achieving its goals of human poverty alleviation for Tibetan nomads, and effective conservation of endangered species. In fact, in much of the antelope habitat, China persists in requiring nomads to construct fences, which interrupt antelope migrations.[6]

How is the state doing? Tibetan antelope numbers continue to gradually recover. The tsö continue to be very wary of crossing the QTEC engineering corridor, which they must, in order to reach their safe birthing grounds. Chinese scientists in 2011 reported: “Tibetan antelopes exhibited risk-avoidance behaviour towards roads that varied with proximity and traffic levels, which is consistent with the risk-disturbance hypothesis.”  The trains headed for Lhasa seldom stop at any of the 13 scenic viewing platforms erected along the rail traverse of Kokoshili, because the antelopes, the iconic sight to be photographed, flee approaching trains.[7]

 

A LONG TERM FUTURE FOR KOKOSHILI

Antelope habitat is much more than the area designated by China for World Heritage. China’s focus is almost entirely on just one species, the antelope, rather than on habitats, ecosystems and whole landscapes.

A holistic approach is needed, rather than publicising a single iconic species, used by China as a symbol of its 2008 Olympics in Beijing, as the sole attraction. A comprehensive approach would give local Tibetan communities, both within the designated World Heritage area, and in their traditional nomadic wintering grounds to the east, ongoing roles as stakeholders. These nomads have for thousands of years taken their herds into Kokoshili for summer pasture, moving alongside the antelopes and gazelles. The Tibetans have proven, by taking the lead in conservation in the 1990s, that they are part of any long term solution, not part of the problem. Yet China persists in labelling them problematic, removing many to Gormo, to live in the shadow of petrochemical factories.

Much of the proposed World Heritage area is the uppermost reaches of two great rivers, the Yangtze and the Mekong, which makes whole landscape protection essential for hundreds of millions of people downriver. The rest of Kokoshili does not drain to rivers, but is a land of lakes, on a flat plain, collecting but not releasing inflows of water, which freezes over in winter and melts in summer, creating water meadows that can be navigated by animals, but badly bogs jeeps, a major reason China calls it “no-man’s land.” Due to climate change, recent data shows an increase in summer rain, increase in grasses for both antelopes and nomad herders, and increase in the area of lakes.[8] This is one of the few places where global climate change, at least in the short-term, has beneficial effects. Kokoshili is rapidly recovering, after decades of rapacious mining, and antelope slaughter. There is summer grass for both wild and domestic animals, if managed skilfully by those who know the land, as Tibetans do. In the past human use and wildlife existed together, in future this could expand.

DOES UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE STATUS IN TIBET RESULT IN EFFECTIVE PROTECTION?

World Heritage status transforms areas inscribed, not always for the better.  UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee need only look at the record of its earlier acceptances of China’s nominations of natural landscapes in the Tibetan Plateau. In 1992 the spectacularly beautiful Jiuzhaigou valley, in Sichuan, directly north of Chengdu, became World Heritage, its inscription partly as panda conservation habitat. No panda has been seen there for 20 years. This valley, named for its nine Tibetan fenced villages, has been surrounded by luxury resorts, millionaire villas, conference centres and a high-speed railway is under construction. The resort operators on their website proudly proclaim it the eastern Davos. Meanwhile, under a deluge of tens of millions of domestic Chinese tourists, UNESCO has increasingly worried that the values for which it was accepted are seriously threatened. But the response has been to  make the Tibetan villagers, who cared for this land for millennia, to limit their land use, by forbidding farming, then forbidding them to earn a little by offering homestays to a few of the tourists. Both of these restrictions were proposed by IUCN missions sent by UNESCO to find solutions to the extreme over-use of the Jiuzhaigou valley by China’s tourism accommodation industry.

In 2002 the World Heritage Committee accepted China’s nomination of a bigger area, customary home of Tibetans and other minority nationalities nearby, as the Three Parallel Rivers site of Yunnan province. Three of the world’s great rivers –the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween- flow there in parallel, only 20kms apart, separated by high ridges, which are rich grasslands, ideal for dairy and livestock production. None of the actual rivers, after which the site is named, are actually inside the World Heritage boundaries, which were carefully mapped by China to exclude the riverbeds, so as to allow for the construction of hydro dams and power grids to carry the electricity generated there far away to China’s coastal factories. The dams and power grids are now under construction, and the World heritage Committee, despite protests, has been firmly told by China to mind its own business, as the dams, mines and grids are outside the World Heritage area, in the steep valleys below.

CHINA’S AGENDA

Far from proposing an inclusive World Heritage property that embraces nature and culture, conservers and conserved, human protectors and endangered species together, China’s nomination comes from the Ministry of Housing, Urban and Rural Development (MHURD). As urbanisation is at the core of China’s development model, this is a powerful ministry, but what has a housing department got to do with wildlife in a remote “no-man’s land”?

The answer is that MHURD runs zoos in urban areas.

It also has some responsibility for scenic spots, and the 13 bare railway platforms on the rail line to Lhasa, as it traverses Kokoshili, are classified as scenic spots, designated by the state as vantage points from which to take the iconic photos which qualify the photographer as an individual, with educated tastes and personal accomplishments, a consumer of the wild with proof of having been there.

China’s most recent report to the UN Convention on Biodiversity states: “Scenic spots are important areas for biodiversity conservation. Since 2002, MHURD has established a system of information for monitoring and managing national-level scenic spots, using remote-sensing and GIS technologies to monitor natural resources conservation and implementation of relevant plans in scenic spots.”[9]

How can MHURD make those windswept platforms to nowhere into scenic spots where antelopes are photogenically available? Only by impeding the migratory flow of herds of female antelopes seeking their birthing grounds, fencing them in to be available to the camera. In short, a zoo.

 

 

WAYS AHEAD

After twice finding itself powerless to limit the impacts of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, in two key World Heritage natural landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau, Tibetans now hope UNESCO has learned from experience that China uses World Heritage listing directly as a brand equity boost to promote mass tourism, while also arguing vigorously that it is China’s business alone if it also industrialises World Heritage landscapes with dams, grids and resorts.

What is the lesson to be learned?  World Heritage status can be a blessing, ensuring effective protection of landscapes, habitats and local human livelihoods. The problem is in defining Kokoshili, like Jiuzhaigou and Three Parallel Rivers, from the outset, purely as natural landscapes, omitting the human cultures that in all three areas have protected lands and animals, wildlife and domestic herds, sustainably for thousands of years.

The alternative facing the World Heritage Committee is to make Kokoshili a landscape protected as both natural and cultural. There is plenty of precedent for this, in China and elsewhere. The mountains sacred to China’s Buddhists are World Heritage sites classified as both natural and cultural hybrids. In order to qualify as cultural heritage, monumental buildings are not necessary, as director of the World Heritage Centre, Dr Mechtild Rössler pointed out in 2016: “The inclusion of such landscapes on the World Heritage List is justifiable by virtue of the powerful religious, artistic or cultural associations of the natural element rather than material cultural evidence, which may be insignificant or even absent. This type is exemplified by Uluru Kata Tjuta in Australia, Sukur in Nigeria and Tongariro National Park in New Zealand.”[10]

 

[1] Tracking Down Tibetan Antelopes, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 2004

[2] Lu Chuan’s hit 2004 movie Kekexili http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xse8pd_kekexili-mountain-patrol-eng-subtitles-1-of-9_travel  in nine online episodes

[3] International Declaration for the Conservation of and Control of Trade in the Tibetan Antelope, TRAFFIC Bulletin Vol. 18 No. 2 (2000)   http://www.traffic.org/bulletin-download

[4][4] http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15967/0

[5] Liu Jianqiang, Tianzhu, Xizang Renmin Chubanshe, Lhasa, 2010

Liu Jianqiang, Tibetan Environmentalists in in China, Lexington, 2015

[6] Joseph L. F o x , Kelsang Dhondup and Tsechoe Dorji,  Tibetan antelope Pantholops hodgsonii conservation and new rangeland management policies in the western Chang Tang Nature Reserve, Tibet: is fencing creating an impasse? Oryx, 2009, 43 #2, 183-190

[7] Lin Xia, Qisen Yang, Zengchao Li, Yonghua Wu, Zuojian Feng, The effect of the Qinghai-Tibet railway on the migration of Tibetan antelope Pantholops hodgsonii in Hoh-xil National Nature Reserve, China,Oryx / Volume 41 / Issue 3 / July 2007

[8] Zhao Qian, Wu Weiwei, Wu Yunlong, Variations in China’s terrestrial water storage over the past decade using GRACE data, Geodesy and Geodynamics 2 0 1 5 , v o l 6 no 3 , 1 8 7-1 9 3

[9]China’s Fifth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity,The Ministry of Environmental Protection of China March, 2014   https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/cn/cn-nr-05-en.pdf p 65

[10] Dr Mechtild Rössler  World Heritage cultural landscapes: A UNESCO flagship programme 1992 – 2006, Landscape Research, 31:4, 333-353

Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment

Innermost Veins of our Planet #1

CHINA’S HI-TECH AMBITIONS TO SUPPLANT THE WORLD’S TOP MANUFACTURING COUNTRIES, BY EXTRACTION OF RARE STRATEGIC METALS FROM TIBET

Blog #1 of 2

LHAGANG LITHIUM AND RARE EARTH DEPOSITS

 

Fresh evidence has emerged confirming how and why Tibetans in remote areas, far from metropoles of power, experience the state as predatory.

The Tibetans of the rugged landscape of Lhagang (Tagong in Chinese) have long lived well amid the sheltering and often sacred pilgrimage mountains, with plentiful rivers, highlands for pasturing the animals and ridgetops for growing crops. Lhagang, in Kham, easternmost Tibet, is not far from old trade routes taking sturdy Tibetan mountain ponies down to the Chinese lowlands for Chinese armies, their pack yaks laden with bricks of tea and fine silks for Tibetan consumption.

Lhagang has long been famous for its horses, and its grassland is now marketed as a tourism destination for those seeking a taste of the wild west within the mandatory stability of China’s deep inland. For Chinese lowlanders seeking relief from the muggy heat of the Sichuan basin, Lhagang/Tagong is only 150 kms into Tibet, just north of the major highway G318 that connects Sichuan to Kham and all the way to Lhasa.

The people, Lhagangpa, were resilient, self-sufficient, in no need of being governed by some distant power, whether Lhasa or Beijing. The powers of the modern state, to discipline, reward, extract, engineer, forbid, enclose, exclose or impose its will, for reasons of state, were at most modest. The local principality did extract taxes, but its needs were modest, its elite small, its interventions minimal.

When the Lhagangpa discovered in the 1950s that they were Chinese citizens, ruled from Beijing and the stiflingly hot capital of provincial Sichuan, way down the mountainsides in Chengdu, it was an unwelcome surprise, but once the fighting ceased, not always onerous. The People’s Liberation Army never went away, but dug in, on the best land, its permanent presence a reminder that it is futile to rebel. The route to Lhagang branches from the highway through Dartsedo (Kangding in Chinese), Nyagchu and Lithang, all towns with a history of resistance and of garrisoned PLA as a permanent presence.

After the official campaign to denounce the lamas and landlords, to compulsory class warfare had come and gone, by the 1980s there was little sign of the distant state. The Lhagangpa could get on with their lives, with herding their animals, ploughing the fields and growing barley, remembering once more that life is about much more than production. Pilgrimages to holy mountains resumed, bringing from afar the devout to cleanse their minds of accumulated quarrels and the tyranny of habit. Monasteries destroyed in the official campaign to smash everything old could be rebuilt. The state, with its revolutionary violence, had intruded into everyone’s life, but it turned out to be spasm, 25 years of chaos and shouting slogans.

The state had no interest in their traditional mode of production, in investing in livestock industries, dairies or improving barley varieties for the growing Chinese taste for manufactured beer. The Lhagangpa were back on their own, even the old tea-horse trade route, remade into a highway, was still a slow switchback up and down the precipitous terrain, prone to blockage by landslides, snowfall and storm.

 

THE SOVEREIGN STATE COMES BACK IN

The state had not done with them. Engineers surveyed the Nyagchu, the river that bisects the whole of Kandze prefecture, from northwest to southeast, defining the entire prefecture as its catchment, other than ranges in the west that drain into the Dri Chu, or upper Yangtze, which is not only the western border of Kandze but the interprovincial border demarcating Sichuan from Tibet Autonomous Region. No less than 11 hydro dam sites have been proposed on the Nyagchu above Nyagchu town, most of them on a scale that would overpower local communities, and produce electricity for export to distant urban markets.

Geologists roamed everywhere, drilling and measuring, but to the Lhagangpa, their secretive work tapping at rocks, in a language no-one knew, remained a mystery. At Jiajika, amid the snows, lithium was found, in ores of spodumene and pegmatite, an oddity even to the exploration teams. Lithium is one of the commonest elements, and in the 1980s its uses were limited, and basic, in making industrial grease, glass and other……….  The romance of the tea-horse road trade caravans did not extend to lithium.

 

The geologists carefully noted the deposit and its concentration of this lightest of metals. Maybe one day it might serve the needs of a new power in manufacturing, with the potential to become the world’s factory. But lithium is found plentifully elsewhere in Tibet, in the salt lake beds of Qinghai province, on flat land much more accessible to China’s industries, with rail access built by the 1980s, as the military industrialisation penetrated far inland to develop nuclear submarines and missiles well away from the American imperialists and Soviet revisionists. In the Tsaidam basin of Qinghai, lithium was one of the salts of the briny salt lakes, admixed with potassium salt (potash) needed for making fertiliser, common salt, needed for making plastics and petrochemicals, and magnesium salts. Extraction required only a bulldozer to scrape and scoop the salt into a truck. Better still, potash and sodium salt (common salt) were already being removed, millions of tonnes a year, with lithium an unwanted by product of the dirty process of separating the salts.

While the bulk lithium producers of Qinghai continue to extract the metal salts of Tibetan lakes in tens of millions of tonnes a year, they struggle to isolate and purify the elements sufficiently for the big new market for lithium, for the batteries powering everything from electric cars to smart phones, drones (military and civilian), even the buses that shuffle you across airport tarmacs and batteries that store solar and wind energy for peak periods of the day. Uses for lithium are exploding, despite the reputation of lithium batteries, poorly made in China, for overheating, burning and even literally exploding. While lithium-powered electric cars are yet to attract mass markets, despite big subsidies from the Chinese government, other uses are fast accelerating.

That is why the rock mineralisations of lithium in Lhagang are back on the extraction agenda. The lithium is spread over a huge area, of hundreds of sq. kms, in dikes of once-molten rock that cooled so slowly that enormous crystals were formed in the pegmatite rock, among the largest crystals to be found anywhere. Geologists believe the presence of lithium was essential to slowing the cooling, allowing time for the crystals to form. The mineralised area is so large it extends to Nyagchu, 70 kms SW, home of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a lama who spoke up for the environment, was prosecuted and convicted by depicting him as a violent terrorist. He later died in gaol.

 

GAME-CHANGER: DISCOVERY OF STRATEGIC MINERALS FOR CHINA’S HI-TECH AMBITIONS

The Lhagang/Nyagchu pegmatite field is rich not only in lithium but in rare earths such as niobium, beryllium and tantalum.

Tantalum is widely used in jet engine turbine blades, electronics and ballistics. Tantalum is found in cell phones, DVD players, laptops, hard drives, and the PlayStation3 — essentially almost any piece of home or industrial electronic equipment. Tantalum is the material of choice for several advanced anti-tank weapon systems.  The warheads are packaged along with sophisticated parachutes, sensors, and electronics to create a smart weapon: a munition that can be deployed, directed, and detonated against targets that are beyond the sight of the soldier.

Tantalum, though rare, has innumerable hi-tech uses, and fresh applications, led by military-industrial research, continue to expand. Concern over tantalum and its current sourcing from mines in central Africa, in conflict zones where conflicts are fuelled by profits from tantalum extraction (commonly called coltan), has now reached a point where the European Union has strict regulations to limit tantalum from Congo entering the European market.

Tantalum mining in Tibet is also a source of conflict, as is evident from the many petitions written by Tibetans in Lhagang/Tagong/Jiajika, in Kham Kandze, begging for mining to stop. Tibetans living in the EU can make the case, on behalf of the Lhagangpa, for all tantalum extraction, from all conflict zones, in Africa and in Tibet, to be covered by the EU regulations.

Niobium likewise has many uses, especially in hardening speciality steels, a market China is keen to dominate as its long standing overcapacity in steel production, and the reluctance of central leaders to force too many inefficient steelmakers to close, results in a state-sponsored push, with access to state-driven cheap finance credit, for China’s metals manufacturers to boldly seize global control. China Molybdenum, largely owned by the government of Luoyang city, a mining town, has been especially bold, locking up control of most of the global niobium supply in 2016 by buying the Brazilian mine from Anglo-American. This is a classic counter-cyclical strategy, taking maximum advantage of the downturn in commodity prices in recent years, which left many mining companies worldwide overstretched and debt-laden, needing to offload prime assets to stay afloat. China now has achieved its strategic objective of worldwide dominance of niobium, a metal that is key to innumerable future applications. [1] In this way China selects strategic minerals amenable to domination and arranges the necessary finance at concessional rates for its favoured corporate crony to buy up big.

Beryllium has many civilian uses, but also many military applications, in missiles and plutonium bombs. China is one of only three countries that produces it. Though rare, it is toxic to human health. Beryllium is considered a health and safety issue for workers. Exposure to beryllium in the workplace can lead to a sensitization immune response and can over time develop chronic beryllium disease (CBD). Beryllium is chemically similar to magnesium and therefore can displace it from enzymes, which causes them to malfunction. Because beryllium is a highly charged and small ion, it can easily get into many tissues and cells, where it specifically targets cell nuclei, inhibiting many enzymes, including those used for synthesizing DNA. Its toxicity is exacerbated by the fact that the body has no means to control beryllium levels, and once inside the body the beryllium cannot be removed. Chronic berylliosis is a pulmonary and systemic granulomatous disease caused by inhalation of dust or fumes contaminated with beryllium; either large amounts over a short time or small amounts over a long time can lead to this ailment. Symptoms of the disease can take up to five years to develop; about a third of patients with it die and the survivors are left disabled.

The Toxicology Data Network (Toxnet) operated by the US government National Institutes of Health says bluntly: “There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of beryllium and beryllium compounds. Beryllium and beryllium compounds cause cancer of the lung. There is sufficient evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of beryllium and beryllium compounds. Beryllium and beryllium compounds are carcinogenic to humans.”

In recent years China has produced 20 to 30 tonnes of niobium a year, and 70 to 90 tonnes of tantalum, seemingly small amounts, but rare earths are indeed rare, and industrial uses, although frequent, require only tiny amounts.[2] More uses for these special metals are invented each year, notably in industries China is determined to dominate globally.

Lithium is also a strategic mineral, beyond its humble civilian uses. Right now, there is great concern that North Korea is using lithium in its nuclear weapons program.

Even civilian uses for lithium, in batteries big and small, have a military dimension. As solar and wind power grow, a major constraint on their reliability is that wind blows intermittently and unpredictability; likewise sunshine at most shines only by day, and is obscured by cloud. One increasingly common strategy for dealing with this is to use lithium batteries –on a huge scale- to store the electricity generated when winds blow and sun shines, then release it at times of the day when electricity demand is highest. It is not only civilian consumers who need reliable electricity, so too do the security forces, and in remote frontier areas where electricity supply is least reliable.

US Navy Commander Wilson VornDick argues that: “President Xi Jinping conceives of energy construction as an integral part of the national security plan to include expansion and construction of more renewable energy resources. China is securitizing renewable energy, as part of a broader energy strategy (能源戰略). The strongest and most effective wind currents for capturing energy are located primarily in the west, in Xinjiang and Xizang (Tibet).  A 2007 treatise by two members of a PLA unit stationed in Tibet describes the varieties of renewables that can create “independent power generation” (独立发电系统) . Many units are stationed in remote areas. Units in Tibet often operate far from home bases. The primacy of informationization is key—the PLA no longer requires just sustenance to survive, but also electrical energy to execute its digitized operations. Beyond powering basic life support functions like heating, cooling, or lighting, the PLA of the 21st century will require sustainable, independent, and secure power sources to run its servers, computers, and combat systems in order to fulfill informationization.

 

Chromium, extracted for several decades from mines near Tsethang in south central Tibet can be considered a strategic mineral too, as well as a major pollutant, especially in its unregulated use in making leather.

If the US and China engage in a trade war, these minerals will be further restricted, stockpiled competitively, and move further into the strategic category.

Other rare minerals, with new civilian and military  uses, have been discovered in unexpected places elsewhere in Tibet, including a coalfield in northern Tibet, surprisingly rich in rubidium, yttrium, caesium and gallium.[3]

 

CHINA’S NEW MASTER PLAN: MADE IN CHINA 2025

China has far to go if it seeks to  become a major, or eventually, a dominant player in producing these key metals –lithium, tantalum, niobium and beryllium- or if it plans to dominate global manufacturing of products that rely on these metals. If China is to fulfil its Made in China 2025 plan for upmarket dominance of elaborately transformed high-end products, the Tibetan veins of these four metals may be the key.

Right now China can source supply worldwide and does so, notably by importing lithium in huge amounts from salt lake beds high in the Andes. That has worked well, enabling Chinese minerals producers and processors to pick and choose the cheapest suppliers globally, and increasingly, to own the mines, around the world.

But now demand is growing fast, both for civilian and military uses of all these unusual metals; and the world is becoming more nationalist, protective, less globalist, more inclined to classify these as strategic minerals which government will stockpile, or even seek to monopolise.

China enjoyed a few years in the early 21st century when it dominated rare earth supply, and used its dominance to reduce exports, especially to countries it had political quarrels with, such as Japan. China’s dominance in rare earths was initiated at a time when there were plenty of alternative sources worldwide, but price competition from Chinese producers, unencumbered by environmental constraints, high wages or  any need to pay royalties to host indigenous communities, drove mines worldwide out of the market, closing production everywhere but in China. Once a near-monopoly was established, China used it not only to punish the Japanese, but to incentivise companies worldwide that need rare earths to relocate their operations to China, and share their technologies. In this way, China leapfrogged into becoming a major power in rare earths, before, inevitably, some of the mines around the world that had closed were restarted, to create competition once more. China’s window lasted only a few years, but it used that window, while it lasted, to great advantage.

This is the strategy of making national champions, and it requires close coordination between the party-state and the mining/processing corporations. Many of China’s miners, processors, smelters and commodity trading companies are state-owned, with some shares traded openly on stock exchanges. Whether state-owned or not, they benefit from highly preferential policies of central leaders, who have picked specific corporations as winners to be made into national champions. The state directs the banks it owns to lend to selected mining companies at low rates, even when the loans are risky and banks, if given the choice, would prefer not to lend, or to factor in the risk by charging higher rates. There are many other subsidies and special deals for favoured corporations, giving them unfair advantage over competitors, even an ability to pay high prices for foreign acquisitions deemed essential to strategic dominance.

 

TIBET AS PART OF THE NEW MASTER STRATEGY

Thus the scatter of veins and dikes of lithium, tantalum, niobium and beryllium across much of Kandze prefecture in Sichuan may emerge as key to China’s ambitions. China’s geologists now speak of the Jiajika deposit, as it is called in Chinese, with great enthusiasm: “Being one of the major producers for rare metals in China the Jiajika Li-polymetal deposit in Sichuan is the most important hardrock-type lithium deposit with more than 500 veins of pegmatite concentrated thereBeing one of the most important hardrock-type lithium polymetallic deposits both in China and abroad the Jiajika-style Li-polymetallic deposit has great prospecting potential.” That is the judgement of a team from top institutions assessing economic deposits, including the Beijing based China University of Geosciences and  Key Laboratory of Metallogeny and Mineral Assessment,Institute of Mineral Resources,  Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, in 2015.[4]

When compared with similar deposits worldwide, the Jiajika deposit on average is larger, has higher grades, and is a shallow, multi-commodity deposit that is easy to exploit.”[5]

They estimate the total amount of lithium in Jiajika at 920,000 tonnes, which makes it competitive with the biggest deposits worldwide. Yet the lithium content of the pegmatite rock is only 1.2 per cent, necessitating a huge mining operation to not only extract vast amounts of waste rock, but also to process it on site, as it is uneconomic to haul away, for distant treatment, huge tonnages of rock which will inevitably be 98% waste material that has to be stored forever in safety. The rare earths are highly concentrated by global standards, but are still extremely rare. In the mineral-rich veins of Lhagang and Nyagchu (Jiajika), beryllium content is 0.043%, niobium 0.013% and tantalum 0.009%.

Only when demand is great is it profitable to invest heavily in the mining, crushing, processing and extraction of these unusual metals; and that time is fast approaching. Because the deposit is scattered over a big area, it lends itself to not one but many mines, probably with several owners, as there are many players keen for a stake. The largest vein is one km long and up to 100 m wide, but most are much smaller.

The geologists are confident that the tectonic plate collision that brought these concentrations of metals so close to the surface extends over a much wider area, and other such deposits will be found, and quantified.

All aspects of this find will cause massive impacts on local Tibetan communities. Some veins begin only 25 m below the surface, some are 300m. The dispersed veins, the amount of profit to be made, the vast amounts of overlying rock to be removed, the buried veins, the low concentrations of valuable metals and high proportion of waste to be stored onsite, all make for maximum social and environmental impact.

The scattered lithium veins of the Jiajika lithium/rare earth deposit crop up in an area of 8o sq. kms, but a much bigger area, of 500 sq. kms is understood by geologists to be rich in further finds of lithium. Geologists enthuse about what they define as a “superlarge” deposit that is easy to extract: “The Western Sichuan lithium metallogenic belt is located in the Songpan–Ganze orogenic belt, which contains significant granitic pegmatite rare-metal resources. Most discovered deposits (spots) are located in the eastern margin of the Songpan–Ganze orogenic belt, which includes the Pingwu, Barkan, Danba, Yajiang, and Jiulong areas. Eleven lithium deposits were recorded in a 1990 reserves table, including one superlarge deposit (Jiajika deposit), one large deposit (Ke’eryin deposit), and four medium-sized deposits. Western Sichuan contains the highest reserves of Li2O in China. These lithium resources coexist with or are associated with many useful elements such as Be (beryllium), Nb,(niobium) and Ta(tantalum). The deposits are shallowly-buried, can be easily mined, and have a low detached ratio, resulting in low extraction costs. The Jiajika pegmatite deposit is located at the southern part of the Songpan–Ganzê orogenic belt. In the Jiajika pegmatite field, pegmatite dikes surround the granite body in both horizontal and vertical directions. The total area of the metamorphic zones is about 500 km2. In the Jiajika deposit, a total of 498 pegmatite dikes with a size of more than 20 m2 are distributed in an area of about 80 km2.”[6]

 


 

[1] James Wilson, China Molybdenum on the hunt for prime western mines, Financial Times, May 4, 2016

[2] 2013 Minerals Yearbook: China, US Geological Service, https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/country/asia.html#ch

[3] SUN Yuzhuang, ZHAO Cunliang, LI Yanheng and WANG Jinxi; Anomalous Concentrations of Rare Metal Elements, Rare-scattered (Dispersed) Elements and Rare Earth Elements in the Coal from Iqe Coalfield, Qinghai Province, China; ACTA GEOLOGICA SINICA (English Edition) Vol. 89 No. 1 pp.229–241 Feb. 2015

[4]刘丽君,付小方,王登红,郝雪峰,袁蔺平,潘蒙, 甲基卡式稀有金属矿床的地质特征与成矿规律*

LIU LiJun,  FU XiaoFang, WANG DengHong, HAO XueFeng, YUAN LinPing and PAN Meng; Geological characteristics and metallogeny of Jiajika-style rare metal deposits; Mineral Deposits, December 2015,  vol 34 #6, 1187-1198

[5] LI Jiankang, WANG Denghong and CHEN Yuchuan; The Ore-forming Mechanism of the Jiajika Pegmatite-Type Rare Metal Deposit in Western Sichuan Province: Evidence from Isotope Dating, ACTA GEOLOGICA SINICA (English Edition) 87 No.1 pp. 91-101 Feb. 2013

[6] LI Jiankang, ZOU Tianren, LIU Xifang, WANG Denghong and DING Xin, The Metallogenetic Regularities of Lithium Deposits in China, ACTA GEOLOGICA SINICA (English Edition) Vol. 89 No. 2 pp.652–670, Apr. 2015

 

Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment

Innermost Veins of our Planet #2

CHINA’S HI-TECH AMBITIONS TO SUPPLANT THE WORLD’S TOP MANUFACTURING COUNTRIES, BY EXTRACTION OF RARE STRATEGIC METALS FROM TIBET

Blog #2 of 2

LITHIUM, HI-TECH STEALTH BOMBERS AND THE DAM PLANS ON THE NYAGCHU/YALONG RIVER

Even though extraction on a commercial scale has barely begun, lithium mine construction at Lhagang/Tagong is confined to warmer months and few operations are yet in production, the early signs are not auspicious. The mass fish kill that alerted local communities in Lhagang/Tagong indicates a careless approach to local concerns. This is especially puzzling as lithium is not a toxic metal, although beryllium is. Since the fish kill was hushed up by censorship and denial, we may never know what caused it. However the rock surrounding the lithium veins is largely granite, which is naturally acidic, and that may have sufficed to change river water chemistry enough to kill the fish and alarm the Lhagangpa community of Tibetan farmers and pastoralists.

 

DAMMING THE RIVER FOR HYDROPOWER, AND FOR WATER DIVERSON

The mineralised district is close to the Nyagchu river, which also gives its name to the county town. This river, flowing from NNW to SSE, in parallel with the lithium veins, is a major tributary of the Yangtze far below. For 600 kms it dissects Kandze prefecture, through dozens of Tibetan Khampa villages, before plunging from the Tibetan Plateau not far north of the Tibetan Autonomous County of Muli/Mili and down to the Sichuan basin. Most of its course is also parallel with the Yangtze/Dri Chu further to the west, before the Yangtze eventually makes its eastward turn towards inland China.

The Nyagchu river is known in Chinese as the Yalong Jiang, scheduled for impoundment in at least 11 pinch points, as it rushes down from its origins in the north westernmost corner of Sichuan, as it protrudes into Qinghai province. Not only are many hydropower dams planned but, above them all, is to be a dam of a quite different sort, announced in the 13th Five-Year Plan from 2016 to 2020 as a “big reservoir” for diverting water away from Tibet and from the Yangtze, through tunnels in the mountains, across to the upper Yellow River, to the cradle of Han civilisation, a river these days parched, overused and laden with waste. China sometimes argues that its dams athwart Tibetan rivers merely interrupt flow briefly, holding water only long enough to drive the turbines that make electricity; but a big reservoir is, as the name suggests, designed to impound as much water as possible, to be built as high as possible, and hold water as long as possible, since the rains are in summer but the Yellow River is in most need of more water in winter.

The engineers who have long looked at maps showing the upper Yellow River is tantalisingly close to upper tributaries of the Yangtze not only have to drill tunnels 100 kms long through the mountains, but also shift billions of cubic metres of water uphill, because the Yalong/Nyagchu and other Yangtze tributaries are inconveniently lower than the upper Yellow River at their closest points. Pumping water against gravity requires enormous energy. One solution is ingeniously simple: build the dam walls so high on the Yalong/Nyagchu that the water level is raised, eliminating much of the pumping. The result will be the tallest dams in the world, well over 300 metres high, requiring a massive construction effort, and huge immigrant construction crews in the remotest areas.

 

TIBETANS PROTEST TO PROTECT THEIR LANDS

The entire mineralised area, the geologists tell us, shares a common history of metallogenic formation. The known deposit already covers three counties: Kangding, Yajiang, Daofu in Chinese, Dartsedo, Nyagchu and Tawu in Tibetan; but similar conditions elsewhere make further discoveries likely. Tawu has a very troubled history in recent years, with peaceable Tibetan assemblies shot by security police.

Tibetan water policy specialist Tashi Tsering writes, in a UNESCO publication: “in May 2009 thousands of angry Tibetans protested against the proposed Lianghekou dam project near Tawu County, Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, part of China’s Sichuan Province. Reports describe instances of local people being forced to sign documents for relocation amidst vehement local opposition. Protestors led by a 70-year-old Tibetan woman destroyed a symbolic stone pillar that officials had erected to signify dam construction and relocation plans. Armed police, dispatched to control the protestors, opened fi re at the angry protesters, leaving six Tibetan women wounded. Such incidents, sadly, are not isolated cases.”[1]

High above the Nyagchu riverbed, on ridgetops at around 4300 m altitude, is good farming country, especially at Nyagrong/Nyenrong, both Tibetan spelling signifying farmland, known as Xinlong in Chinese. There, in March 2017, a young Tibetan man publicly burned his body in protest at China’s encroachments.

These lithium and rare earth mineralisations seem to have occurred long before the collision of the Indian plate with Eurasia brought close to the surface what had formed deep within the molten heart of the planet and then cooled so slowly it took four million years for liquid to crystallise and solidify into rock. This gives us special access to the inner depths of our planet.[2] It is little wonder Tibetans regard such places as special, and routinely perform rituals to keep local spirits happy.[3] Only in very few places on the planet’s surface is the earth’s inner mantle accessible.

 

THE SECURITY STATE SEEKS DOMESTIC SUPPLY OF STRATEGIC MINERALS

This patrimony is to be used to establish China’s dominance in robotics, surveillance satellites, electric vehicles, drones and innumerable military applications. These are metals that are light, resistant to corrosion and with many special properties that are being pioneered by military technologists. Large drones, made for military use, armed with bombs, are made in Chengdu, close to Tibet, by a state-owned corporation with roots in western China going back decades to the decade of Soviet cooperation in assisting China leapfrog its military industries as far inland, away from the US Navy, as possible. The same Chengdu based company is making advanced attack aircraft.

 

 

 

Because these technologies, reliant on Tibetan minerals, offer China a pathway to global dominance in its chosen industries of the future, high tech industries worldwide are expressing alarm at what they call mercantilism, making clear this is not free trade, the inevitable trajectory of globalisation or a level playing field: China has doubled down on its innovation-mercantilist strategies, seeking global dominance across a wide array of advanced industries that are key to U.S. economic and national security interests. And despite the claims of some apologists for Chinese behaviour, it’s clear what the end game is: Chinese-owned companies across a range of advanced industries gaining significant global market share at the expense of American, European, Japanese, and Korean competitors.” [4]

Sourcing key strategic minerals from Tibet is intrinsic to this centrally-driven plan. China has long been a global buyer of raw materials, including just about all metals, and has learned how to not only buy and trade minerals but how to buy mines worldwide. But certain minerals are considered strategic, their acquisition backed by national stockpiles, their export restricted, with state regulation and ownership playing a major role. Once a mineral is classified as strategic, its extraction and storage are no longer solely commercial issues left to market forces, they become part of the security state and its priorities in an anarchic world of competing sovereigns.

Now that public opinion throughout China demands effective action to protect the environment, especially the rivers, there are now serious new regulations making it: “forbidden to build new heavy and chemical industry zones within a kilometre of the Yangtze and major tributaries, and those already present will have to be relocated.”  However, these “red lines” only affect the officially designated Yangtze Economic Belt, which only begins far below Tibet and covers territory further downriver. What is the point of restricting mining, heavy industry and chemical plants along the mid-Yangtze, while the upper Yangtze in Tibet is polluted with toxic  rare earth mining? This is a real opportunity for Tibetan and Chinese environmentalists to discover they have much in common, and work together.

A major reason China needs Tibetan sources is that its factories are moving to the foot of the Tibetan Plateau, away from the high-cost east coast, where urban populations are sick of polluting factories and frequently rise in effective protest. For coast-based industries, it makes little difference whether the mineral raw materials they process originate in Zambia or Peru or Tibet. But for the hi-tech factories based in Chengdu, far inland, close by the Tibetan Plateau, it is only a 200 kms journey to the lithium/tantalum/niobium/beryllium deposit of Lhagang/Tagong, close to a highway which is being rapidly upgraded by central authorities. AVIC, the drone and stealth fighter maker based in Chengdu was a pioneer of establishing the Third Front, as the military industrialisation of western China decades ago was called. Now Chengdu boasts of having most of the world’s top 500 corporations operating factories in Chengdu. AVIC hopes to make it big, becoming a world player, or at least big enough to squeeze nonChinese manufacturers out of China.

A recent in-depth report by analysts in Germany points out: “The hopefuls are a large heterogeneous group, including large state-owned and private enterprises as well as many small and medium enterprises. Examples for hopefuls are the state-owned aircraft and defence corporation Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), as well as the TV maker Changchong, energy equipment producers such as Shaangu and the ship maker Nantong COSCO KHI Ship Engineering. Many hopefuls take part in the pilot projects launched by the MIIT and local governments.

“Policy is the main trigger of industrial upgrading.  Unlike the frontrunners, the hopefuls rely on the top-down approach of Made in China 2025. For them the policy campaign is the main driver for their upgrading activities towards smart manufacturing. Their business interest is currently too weak to lead to comprehensive investment in cutting-edge automation and digitisation technology without policy support. But the national pilot projects are an important trigger and provide substantial support for testing advanced technology and improving efficiency. Senior managers of large state-owned enterprises respond particularly well to the policy priorities of Made in China 2025 in order to meet political targets and advance their own careers. The big push towards smart manufacturing is especially visible in the aviation industry (Table 5). State-owned aircraft makers have considerably increased their activities in this area in 2015 and 2016. AVIC, for instance, developed a comprehensive plan for smart manufacturing parallel to the release of Made in China 2025.

“The government puts all necessary political and financial resources into making Chinese tech suppliers dominant in politically selected industries like robots and high-end machine tools. The envisioned market shares for Chinese products and brands in the “Made in China 2025 Key Area Technology Roadmap” demonstrate the ambitious political goal of reducing the market share of international technology suppliers. Over the coming years until 2025, China’s policy makers will increasingly intervene in the market to achieve these goals. The Chinese government will use the whole array of innovation and industrial policy instruments to enhance the competitiveness of Chinese suppliers in politically selected industries.

“Capital injections for Chinese companies:

 “The national and local governments nurture tech suppliers with generous state support. This includes, for instance, tax rebates for high-tech enterprises and for software developers. There are also huge direct capital injections from government funds and innovation parks.

“The central government shows extraordinarily high ambitions for the development of the Chinese robotics industry: Chinese robot makers are supposed to reach a domestic market share of 80 per cent by 2025, according to the “Made in China 2025 Key Area Technology Roadmap”. For sophisticated core components, the target is 70 per cent by 2025. To realise these ambitions, the government will again intensify its political incentives and funding mechanisms in the robot industry in the years to come. The state’s subsidy glut has led to a tremendous increase in the number of Chinese robot companies. More than 800 Chinese robot companies are registered in China, approximately half of them in 2015. The majority of these companies have not yet reached the stage of mass production. Many of them just serve as rent-seeking vehicles to receive government subsidies and do not make any profit.

“China’s high ambitions and extensive political support for the manufacturing sector will reshape global competition structures. Despite the weaknesses of China’s top-down policy, a group of Chinese companies will be able to utilise the political support effectively and significantly boost their competitiveness. And these emerging companies will continue to enjoy intense state support. The Chinese state will seek to shield their activities from international competition at home and to support their engagement on global markets politically as well as financially. The global competitive playing field will be effectively tilted by Chinese industrial policy. This poses a number of fundamental challenges to industrial countries and international enterprises. The Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Japan and South Korea will be most vulnerable if Made in China 2025 is successful.”[5]

High tech manufacturers in the US and Europe are worried China plans to take their market share, by any means. This has resulted in many recent in-depth reports and watchable online video hearings on China’s Made in China 2025 state-driven developmentalist strategy.

Those reports reflect the fears of China’s competitors that their technological edge will be bought up by China, their intellectual property stolen, their markets shrivel. They highlight China’s plan, in the first stage of the Made in China 2025 strategy to substitute China-made technologies. They focus on the knowledge needed to substitute Chinese high tech products, both military and civilian, for imports. They seldom ask where China will obtain the raw materials for domestic manufacture of high tech on the scale envisaged. This is what concerns Tibetans, as the Lhagangpa, with their precious lithium, tantalum, niobium and beryllium aren’t the only source China has in Tibet, not only of minerals but also the water essential to manufacturing, and the electricity.

TIBET PROVIDES CHINA A FULL MENU OF MINERALS & ENERGY OPTIONS

The wider picture is that Tibet abounds in proven deposits of copper, gold, silver, molybdenum, lead, zinc and many other minerals, plus, in its salt lakes, abundant supplies of lithium, potassium and magnesium, and a host of other accessible minerals as well. China’s plans for damming most Tibetan rivers to generate hydropower for transmission right across China to coastal manufacturing hubs, was reaffirmed by the announced targets of the current 13th Five-Year Plan. Apart from the Tsaidam Basin in Qinghai, the Tibetan Plateau has seldom fulfilled China’s expectation of becoming a treasury of extraction, but that is now changing.

China’s program to transform itself into a leading hi-tech maker is state led. This is a directive, developmentalist, allocative model financed by the state, on a massive scale, to make China, over a decade, into a world leader in military and civilian high technologies. ”Frustrated that it was spending more on importing semiconductors than oil China has, since 2014, spent $150bn through a mixture of M&A and domestic subsidies on developing the sector. It has also poured money into its own national champions.”[6]

Already, extraction has transformed the economy of Tibet, especially in Tibetan areas beyond the Tibet Autonomous Region. Mining and minerals processing contributes more than 40 per cent of the GDP of Qinghai province (Amdo in Tibetan), a dependence equalled only by one other Chinese province, coal-rich Shanxi.[7] And that calculation does not include Qinghai’s export of its hydropower to the factories of Lanzhou downstream. When extraction dominates an economy, attracts all available investment capital and generates quickest returns, the primary agricultural sector is neglected, benefits flow only to those connected to the resource economy, in short, the resource curse. This is evident in Qinghai which, by area is well over 90 per cent officially designated Tibetan autonomous counties and prefectures, but its economy is dominated by extraction, in which displaced Tibetan no longer permitted to remain on their pastures sit out redundant lives on the fringes of the extraction zone, in settlements such as those lining industrial cities such as Gormo. They have no place in the extraction/processing industries, yet no place on the land either.

 

CHINA’S LONGER TERM AGENDA

Not only does China obtain the raw materials, energy supply and water it needs for its mercantilist grand plans for high tech dominance, on the ground in Tibet the party-state establishes its presence as the sovereign power. Through hydro dams, ultra-high voltage electricity transmission grids, mines and mineral processing plants, new towns and transport networks connecting all the extraction enclaves, the state manifests in the lives of Tibetans used to local self-sufficiency, with no felt need, over the centuries, for any distant sovereign power to take command.

China is renowned for long term plans and strategies, thinking far ahead. The Made in China 2025 program established a 10 year frame for achieving China as a high tech leader. But there is a much longer term agenda, seldom explicitly mentioned, of establishing alien rule as the norm across the Tibetan Plateau, the long haul of making an empire into a nation.

Alien rulers have limited options if they intend to persuade those they rule to accept being citizens of the modern nation-state, in which the ruled, on the frontier, are a distinct ethnic minority. States can only do certain things, notably infrastructure construction, frontier security, encouraging immigration, setting up penal colonies,  promotion of new industries, strengthening of existing industries, enabling frontier populations to access metropolitan markets, investment in resource extraction and in the provision of environmental services to benefit distant populations. Beyond these, middle income countries such as China can afford to invest in effective rural health care for the frontier populations, veterinary care and livestock insurance for their animals, pasture rehabilitation for degraded and deforested areas, even basic minimum income payments as a right of all citizens.

On the Tibetan Plateau, over the past 60 years, China has tried many of these approaches, but has consistently favoured those that announce the presence of the sovereign state as the master, superseding all customary loyalties. Thus China has invested heavily, where possible, in immigrant population transfer (seldom possible in Tibet for climatic reasons), in massive infrastructure builds, and in security, an industry that dominates employment and the Tibetan economy; while neglecting to invest in land, livestock, pastures and rehabilitation of degraded areas, or to invest much in welfare. The state has done all it can to encourage, subsidise, agglomerate and intensify the exploitation of selected enclaves of highly focused capital expenditure and accumulation. These are the enclaves of resource extraction, water impoundment, subsidised urban hubs, cascades of hydro dams, and all the networks that link the enclaves –the highways, railways and power grids intrinsic to modernity.

 

 A PREDATORY STATE

Not surprisingly, Tibetans feel left out, their livelihoods ignored or even prohibited, under the slogan of “grow more grass” (tuimu huancao) to ensure Chinese populations far downstream get more water. Tibetans, long used to self-sufficiency in local communities, experience the encroachments of the dam builders, geologists, miners and security police who repress dissent, as a state that is indeed powerful, but partisan and predatory, favouring its own Han ethnicity while punishing Tibetans who stand up for sacred mountains and local gods. Although China intends to make alien rule acceptable, it persists in alienating the ruled, widening the gap between Tibetan and Chinese identities. China’s policies are counter-productive, and have long been so.

The discovery of so many Tibetan mineral deposits essential to new high tech military and civilian industries fits closely with the priorities of a developmentalist, mercantilist state that insists this is development, with Chinese characteristics, for all, including the Tibetans who will somehow e pulled up out of poverty by all the new dams, mines, power grids, highways and cities now growing fast across Tibet.

When, in the 1990s, the revered lama Tulku Tenzin Delek, in the heart of the new lithium country, spoke up for the environment, was labelled a terrorist, gaoled, dying in prison almost two decades later, he understood China’s calculus, that his home district of Nyagchu/Lhagang was, in Chinese eyes, a source of primitive wealth accumulation, nothing more or less.

A predatory state focused only on extraction of hydropower, water diversion and mining of strategic minerals is counter-productive, if the long-term aim is to assimilate minority nationalities, encourage them to trust and identify with the nation-state, accept its sovereignty and identify as its citizens. China, at an official level, has persuaded itself that its predatory extraction constitutes a program of modernisation, which will eventually make Tibetans wealthier, and thus glad to be Chinese. All evidence of recent decades is that the more predatory the state, its hydro dam builders and state owned miners become, the more deeply it alienates and anguishes Tibetans.

Far from achieving the long term goal of assimilation, the 13th Five-Year Plan for hydro dams on the Nyagchu/Yalong, big reservoirs to capture and remove water, and the  Made in China 2025 mining of precious strategic minerals, cause the perverse outcome of deepening the divide between Han and Tibetan, fostering a stronger sense of Tibetan identity.

If the world thinks “the Tibet issue” is gone, it is wrong: there is a long way to go.

 

[1] Tashi Tsering, Lessons from Tibet’s only successful anti-dam campaign, in: Water, Cultural Diversity, and Global Environmental Change, UNESCO International Hydrological Programme, 2012

[2] LI Jiankang, WANG Denghong and CHEN Yuchuan; The Ore-forming Mechanism of the Jiajika Pegmatite-Type Rare Metal Deposit in Western Sichuan Province: Evidence from Isotope Dating, ACTA GEOLOGICA SINICA (English Edition) 87 No.1 pp. 91-101 Feb. 2013

[3] Samten Karmay, The Arrow and the Spindle, LTWA 2006

[4][4] Stopping China’s Mercantilism: A Doctrine of Constructive, Alliance-Backed Confrontation ROBERT D. ATKINSON, NIGEL CORY, AND STEPHEN J. EZELL | MARCH 2017, Information Technology & Innovation Foundation,

http://www2.itif.org/2017-stopping-china-mercantilism.pdf?_ga=1.175527650.1596523250.1489815324

[5] Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics), Made in China 2015: The making of a high-tech superpower and consequences for industrial countries,

https://www.merics.org/en/about-us/merics-analysis/papers-on-china/made-in-china-2025/

[6] Louise Lucas, Technology: China reboots its superpower ambitions: As Beijing pushes to be self-sufficient in tech by 2025, rivals see a threat to their national security and competitiveness , FT, 19 March 2017 by: Feng https://www.ft.com/content/1d815944-f1da-11e6-8758-6876151821a6

[7] Lucy Hornby, Archie Zhang and Jane Pong; Fake China data: was it just one province? Revelations Liaoning fabricated statistics raise questions over rest of rust belt, FT MARCH 13, 2017 https://www.ft.com/content/a5bf42e2-03cf-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9

Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment

CONCRETE WALLS ACROSS THE GREAT TIBETAN RIVERS

HYDRO DAMS ADVANCING UP THE RIVERS OF EASTERN TIBET

 

Will Tibetan rivers be saved from damming? We now know what China’s planners intend, in more detail than when the 13th Five-Year Plan was announced early in 2016. Now, at the end of 2016, China’s water planners have finalised their plans for that five year period, which runs through 2020.

The news is not good. Plans to dam the Tibetan upper tributaries of the Yangtze are to go ahead, on what China calls the Dadu and Yalong rivers. Since these dams are meant to generate vast amounts of hydroelectricity, far more than could be used inside Tibet (even if copper mining is intensified), that in turn means the go-ahead for construction of a power grid to export electricity from the Tibetan Plateau, eastwards all the way across China to major cities including Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The combined impact of both dams and power grids, of all the construction crews and heavy equipment swarming up steep and remote valleys of Kham, eastern Tibet, will urbanise and industrialise the pastoral landscapes and pilgrimage circuits of Kandze and Ngawa prefectures.

Environmentalists have awaited this detailed blueprint, in the romantic hope that one wild river at least will be spared. They yearn to save the Nu, the remotest of all from lowland China, known to Tibetans as the Gyalmo Ngulchu and to much of the world as the Salween of Myanmar/Burma, hoping it  can miraculously escape the fate of every other river in China. Recent attention has focussed on the omission of specific mention of the Nu in the latest official list of what is to be dammed, when and where. The exceptionalist dream still lives: the Nu has been spared, some say. In reality, even a strong state like China, capable of allocating capital expenditure to remote areas for nation-building, takes its time to match the engineering vision to concrete reality. Top priority for the next few years is the Dadu and Yalong, with no word as to when the planned dams on the Nu will feature on the list for a construction go-ahead. That’s a slender thread for romantic hopes to cling to.

The go-ahead for damming the Dadu and Yalong defies predictions that, by the time the dams are operational, and the ultra-high voltage power lines athwart Tibetan wilderness are all in place, coastal China’s factories will not need the additional power. This is because China no longer wants to be the world’s factory if that means manufacturing energy-intensive, water-intensive, low priced goods in highly polluting factories that pay low wages to workers, at a time when China plans to reduce energy intensity, graduate to being a middle income country and move its factories westwards towards Tibet, or to other countries with lower wages, such as Vietnam, Cambodia or Bangla Desh.

China’s coastal cities are also switching gradually –too gradually- out of coal-fired electricity, to less polluting natural gas, imported by giant tanker ships. For all these reasons, the predicted energy shortage necessitating Tibet to be remade into a major electricity exporter may not be needed.

On 30 November 2016, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) released its work plan, fleshing out the Five-Year Plan in detail. Official China’s fixation on nation-building mega projects continues. The NEA announces it will “Speed ​​up inter-provincial transmission project in particular, hydropower, wind power delivery channel construction, increase the proportion of clean energy utilization.” China’s ongoing reliance on dirty energy, primarily coal continues, despite much official rhetoric about reducing reliance on coal. China continues to burn more coal annually than the rest of the world combined. That is the rationale for the turn to wind, solar and hydro, on the assumption that they are not only clean but unproblematic. NEA announces it is mindful that China’s West, including Tibet, is officially designated as the new zone of energy-intensive industries, a shift inland from the coast: “Promote energy and energy-intensive industrial development. Implement the ‘State Council guidance on the central and western regions to undertake industrial transfer,’ the western region to support the implementation of energy-intensive industrial layout optimization project.”

So it announces as its target a strong growth in hydro power generation: ”The National Energy Administration officially announced its’ hydropower development plan for the thirteenth Five-Year Plan. The plan shows that in 2020 China’s total installed capacity of hydropower 380 million kilowatts, of which 340 million kilowatts of conventional dams, pumped storage capacity of 40 million kilowatts, the annual generating capacity 1.25 trillion kwh, equivalent to about 375 million tons of standard coal. Experts said that to promote the rational development of hydropower, not only will effectively protect China’s clean power supply, will also promote China’s economic and social development. According to statistics, China’s potential hydropower resources can be further                      developed and installed capacity could reach about 660 million kilowatts, the annual generating capacity of about 3 trillion kWh, second only to coal. After years of development, China’s hydropower installed capacity and annual power generation has exceeded 300 million kilowatts and 1 trillion kWh, accounting for 20.9% and 19.4% of total electricity production.” (Economic Daily News, Dazhong Xiao, 30 Nov 2016)

This requires an increase in generating capacity from 300 to 380 mkW, a jump of 27 per cent. That’s by 2020, with an even bigger jump in the following five years. There is only one area where such a leap is possible: Tibet, especially on the eastern margins of the Tibetan plateau, where Asia’s great rivers cut steep valleys, flowing as wild mountain rivers, until now unimpounded. Capturing Tibetan rivers is known in China as the “West-to-east electricity transfer program.” NEA says: “Plan the next step to continuously expand the “West to East” capacity, in 2020 the scale of hydropower transmission to 100 million kilowatts. It is estimated that in 2025, the national hydropower installed capacity will reach 470 million kilowatts, including 380 million kW of conventional hydropower, 90 million kW of pumped storage and 1.4 trillion kWh of electricity annually.”

The hydro dams athwart Tibetan rivers have been planned for decades, but actually building them will take time, hence the time frame spanning two Five-Year Plan periods, to 2025. By then, the plan is far beyond the 27 per cent increase on present hydro power generating capacity. From the current baseline of 300 mkW to 470 mkW, is a jump of over 50 per cent in ten years. Only Tibet could possibly contribute this much electricity to China’s factories and cities.

The NEA plan is quite specific: “Taking Southwest China, Sichuan, Yunnan, Tibet as the focus, focusing on major projects, combined with the end of the market and delivery channel construction, and actively promote large-scale hydropower base development. Continue dam construction on the Jinsha River, the Yalong River, Dadu River and other hydropower base construction work; actively promote the Jinsha River and other hydropower base construction, construction of the southeast of Tibet, “West to East”. By 2020, the conventional hydropower installed capacity in the western region will reach 240 million kilowatts, accounting for 70.6% of the national total, and the development level will reach 44.5% of total potential dam construction.”

The specific targets are on the Jinsha and Dadu rivers of Kham. The Nu is mentioned, as well as the Yalong Tsangpo/Brahmaputra, but not as specific targets for energy extraction within the current Five-Year Plan period. Both are named as rivers for which ongoing planning of future dams is to go ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABUNDANT WATERS OF A LAND OF POVERTY?

NEA also emphasises doing its part in attracting the intractably poor to relocate to districts where electricity will be made available. China’s 13th Five-Year Plan ambitiously declares all poverty will be eliminated by 2020, even though the remaining poor are clustered in areas so deficient in the factors of production that poverty in situ is impossible to overcome. This is a scientistic way of saying poverty is endemic in Tibet, because Tibet is high, cold and  lacking all that China finds familiar. China assumes no-one would live in Tibet if they had a choice, so removing people elsewhere, especially if elsewhere is on a mains electricity grid, is doing them a favour. NEA announces it will provide: “full support for poverty-stricken areas of energy resources development and utilization, implement the spirit of the central anti-poverty work conference, insist on accurately targeted poverty, precise identification of those to be lifted out of poverty, efforts to speed up poverty-stricken areas of energy development and construction, focus on improving the local energy universal service levels, and promote economic development in poor areas and improve people’s livelihood, to win the battle of poverty. Implementation of the  ‘National Energy Administration Opinions on Accelerating the development and construction in poor areas to promote energy poverty out of poverty’ and to increase energy projects in poor areas to support and capital investment, new energy development projects and delivery channels, give priority to ethnic minority areas, border areas and contiguous destitute areas layout.”

NUMBER ONE WATER TOWER

All of China’s plans are based on the idea that “Tibet is China’s Number One Water Tower”, a slogan invented by Qinghai hydro engineers decades ago to try and attract Beijing’s attention, and funding, to a province that was languishing. Like all official slogans, it has been repeated so often it has become a truism, something known to be true because it is known to be true. But is it? The Tibetan Plateau is indeed a great island in the sky, towering above lowland China, its waters falling freely.

But Tibet gets less rain than most of China, and can even be considered semi-arid, especially upper, or western Tibet. At least that was the case until climate change and glacier melt started to make a big difference. Now the most arid parts of Tibet are experiencing increased rainfall, as well as glacier melt, and as a result the lakeland of the Changtang is expanding. The empty northern plain, or Changtang, is where Tibetan civilisation began, thousands of years ago, with archaeologists recently finding ancient irrigation channels traversing what today is stony desert. The vast Changtang is dotted with lakes; all have inlets but no outlets. The water level in these lakes has been very slowly dropping for thousands of years in a long term shift of climate that eventually pushed the Tibetans further east, to better-watered areas, to Amdo and Kham, in today’s Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Scientists have intensively studied these falling lakes, which often are ringed by ancient benched beaches now perched high above the water line.

Until now.  Early than usual spring rains, further penetrating monsoon rains, even late autumn rains are now filling those lakes higher than ever, a reversal that became noticeable only this century, after thousands of years of gradual desiccation.

This year’s monsoon rains were especially striking. 2016 seemed in many ways similar to 1998, the last time there were major floods on the Yangtze. The 1998 floods were serious enough for China, at the highest level, to recognise it could continue to plunder the forests of Kham only at great cost to downriver Chinese cities on the Yangtze floodplains. The result was China’s switch from exploiting the forests of Kham to exploiting Burma and further afield, taking the tropical forests of SE Asia, the islands of the Pacific and Africa instead.

But the Yangtze floods of 2016 did not originate in Tibet; in fact the headwaters of the Yellow (Huang He in Chinese, Ma Chu in Tibetan), Yangtze (Chang Jiang in Chinese, Dri Chu in Tibetan) and Mekong (Lancang in Chinese, Za Chu in Tibetan) actually had a very dry year, with rainfall totals sharply down. Meanwhile, far western upper Tibet had one of its wettest monsoons ever, with rainfalls far above what is usual. Things are changing fast.  The lakes are rising.  By the time all those hydro dams are built, much of the “dividend” of extra flow from glacier melt will be past, and if 2016 is repeated, there may not be enough water to turn those expensive hydro dam turbines for more than a few months each year.

So there is still reason to believe that, if dam construction can be delayed a few years longer, the hydro engineers will rethink their data, and realise they left it a bit late to concretise their dream of capturing all of Tibet’s rivers.

Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment

IN THE “NO-MAN’S LAND” OF TIBET

 EVALUATING CHINA’S NOMINATION OF HOH XIL NATURE RESERVE TO BECOME A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE NATURAL PROPERTY

#1 of a series of 3 blogs

 

The cute Tibetan chiru antelope mascot of the Beijing Olympics is to be saved, by making its winter pastures and summer birthing grounds UNESCO World Heritage. Before China reached  the Tibetan Plateau in the 1950s, there were at least one million chiru, now there at most 150,000. After decades of relentlessly hunting the chiru, by protein hungry Chinese revolutionary soldiers and by poachers monetising the  downy chiru  underfur, after decades of increasingly effective Tibetan ranger patrols to stop the poachers, China has now come up with the ultimate solution: UNESCO inscription.

yingying-the-chiru-mascot

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tibetan antelope, pantholops hodgsonii to scientists, tsö in Tibetan, is better known globally as the chiru.This series of three blogs is an analysis of China’s case. UNESCO will make its decision in July 2017 at the meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland. Until then, the merits of China’s nomination, and the Tibetans’ counter proposal, of a community controlled Sacred Natural Site under local Tibetan management, are open for all to consider.

China insists this is a “no-man’s land”, uninhabited, a terra nullius, with no human inhabitants, so the question of human rights does not arise. This the heart of the issue.

WHY HOH XIL?

The 77,000 km2 China proposes as World Heritage, big as it is, constitutes only a minor portion of a band of nature reserves China has created across the entire width of the Tibetan Plateau. Hoh Xil stands in the middle, with the Changtang (empty plain) to the west and Sanjiangyuan (three river source) to the east. Together they encompass the entire range of the iconic Tibetan antelope, both the Hoh Xil winter feeding grounds in the higher rainfall east, and their arid Changtang birthing grounds in summer, where monsoon rains bring a brief flush of grass, and the young have less to fear from wolves.

kekexili-park-map-2015_05_26-04_07_26-utc

According to China’s nomination, this is all about protecting the chiru antelope, yet the birthing grounds,  in the first of the Tibetan nature reserves to have been declared, is not part of this proposal. So we might ask, from the outset, why Hoh Xil?

One answer is that Hoh Xil is the only terrain in the three contiguous, interlocked nature reserves that is bisected by a railway, highway and infrastructure engineering corridor, for 250 kms, with four stations already built but until now hardly used. Hoh Xil is set for a tourism boom, safari tourism for adventurous domestic and international visitors arriving by train from China’s major cities. Only Hoh Xil has such amenities.

nagchu-train-arriving-section-1-img_4795_sm-2015_05_26-04_07_26-utc

The analysis below situates Hoh Xil in the middle of the three great nature reserves, contextualising it as the centrepiece of a swathe of zones that increasingly exclude customary Tibetan land use, situate the state as the sole agency, and encourage mass tourism. Because Changtang and Hoh Xil together constitute the range of the chiru; because Hoh Xil’s 45,00 km2 and a further 32,00 km2 of Sanjiangyuan now jointly constitute the application before UNESCO, these three, in their west to east band across the entire plateau, are joined, and need to be considered together.  What UNESCO decides for Hoh Xil in 2017 may soon apply to Changtang and the rest of Sanjiangyuan soon.

The Hoh Xil Nature Reserve, soon to be upgraded to the Hoh Xil UNESCO World Heritage property, was the first substantial portion of the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai province to be formally set aside for conservation, setting a precedent for later extensions, into the best pasture lands and more heavily populated areas of the Tibetan Plateau. Today, half of the Tibetan Plateau is designated as nature reserve, setting up either/or clashes between human pastoralists and wild animals, ending the sustainable co-existence of wild and domestic, that had persisted for thousands of years.

sanjiangyuan-in-china-context-uncluttered-map-2015_05_26-04_07_26-utc

In China’s imagination Hoh Xil is waste land, but to Tibetan pastoralists it is part of their range, and the counties of Hoh Xil are all populated by resourceful, hardy pastoralists, with their herds of yaks, sheep and goats. Using data from the 2000 Census, of the counties of Hoh Xil, all in Yushu prefecture, Chumarleb had a Tibetan population of 23,600; Trindu/Dzato a Tibetan population of 39, 750; Drito 23,407. In each county the Tibetan population was at least 96.7 per cent of the total population, with only a small number of immigrant Han Chinese officials in senior positions.

These pastoralists have long made skilful use of drylands which no other civilisation, including contemporary China, has ever found any way of making humanly habitable, productive and sustainable. The secret of the success of the Tibetan pastoralists is their mobility, adaptability and capacity to live off uncertainty. It is this remarkable flexibility that has made one of the driest areas of the Tibetan Plateau a production landscape in season, and thus a cultural landscape. UNESCO’s Mechtild Rossler draws our attention to just such cultural landscapes already recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage, such as the Puzta pastoral landscape of Hortobagy National Park in Hungary, and several Australian sites, designated by both the nominating government and by UNESCO as hybrid cultural landscapes precisely because, in these sacred lands, there is so little disturbance to the landscape, so little human construction.[1] Mechtild Rossler argues that “The inclusion of such landscapes on the World Heritage List is justifiable by virtue of the powerful religious, artistic or cultural associations of the natural element rather than material cultural evidence, which may be insignificant or even absent. This type is exemplified by Uluru Kata Tjuta in Australia, Sukur in Nigeria and Tongariro National Park in New Zealand.” These criteria fit Hoh Xil exactly.

changtang-park-map-2015_05_26-04_07_26-utc

Further west, in the adjacent Changtang nature reserve Gertse County early this century had a human population of 17,200; Shentsa county 16,600 and Palgon County over 33,000.[2] Ruthok County in the farthest west had just over 7000, and Nyima 33,860. Again, in each county Tibetans were nowhere less than 97.6 per cent of the total population.[3] Although Hoh Xil and Changtang are usually regarded as Tibet’s empty quarter, they are home to resourceful pastoralists with a long backstory. To the east, Sanjiangyuan is much more densely populated.

Scientific mapping often defines Hoh Xil as extending far west, into what China classifies as the Changtang of Tibet Autonomous Region, distinct from Hoh Xil of Qinghai province. While they may be politically two separate provinces, from a scientific viewpoint it is only by eliding Changtang and Hoh Xil that the seasonal range of the iconic chiru is inclusively defined.

The total Tibetan population of Changtang and Hoh Xil in 2000 was 193,228. That’s not a lot by Chinese standards, but it was their registered homeland, where, under China’s restrictive hukou household registration system, they were required to stay. Now, in the name of conservation, they are increasingly required to leave. The people of the production landscapes of this huge area managed wild and domestic herds mingling sustainably, in a vast Lakeland without fences, for millennia, even though nomads did hunt.

chiru-leaping

 Gazelles leaping

EXCLUSIONARY REGULATIONS

In 1994 China promulgated official regulations governing the creation and administration of nature reserves. These regulations, currently in effect, enact a governance regime predicated on the model of nature reserves as areas of special beauty, biological diversity and outstanding qualities. In keeping with this model, the Regulations require that there be a science-based classification, within each nature reserve, into core zones, buffer zones and outer zones. The core zone, to be policed most strictly, is the zone from which all human activity is prohibited, even scientific research and visitors, in order that what is most precious is given best opportunity to flourish unimpeded by human presence of any sort.

The nature reserve regulations are clearly aimed at protecting that which is most precious, beautiful and exceptional. The regulations state: “Article 18. Nature reserves may be divided into three parts: the core zone, buffer zone and experimental zone. The intact natural ecological systems and the areas where precious rare and vanishing wildlife species are concentrated within nature reserves shall be delimited as the core zone into which no units or individuals are allowed to enter. No scientific research activities are allowed in this zone except for those approved according to Article 27 of these Regulations. Certain amount of area surrounding the core zone may be designated as the buffer zone, where only scientific research and observation are allowed. The area surrounding the buffer zone may be designated as the experimental zone, where activities such as scientific experiment, educational practice, visit, tourism and the domestication and breeding of precious, rare and vanishing wildlife species may be carried out.”[4]

chiru-tso-2

In keeping with this strict regime of human exclusion from the purity of nature, the regulations are sweepingly comprehensive as to which human activities are banned, including both customary and modern uses of land: “Article 26. In nature reserves, such activities as felling, grazing, hunting, fishing, gathering medicinal herbs, reclaiming, burning, mining, stone quarrying and sand dredging, shall be prohibited unless otherwise stipulated by relevant laws and regulations.”

Because traditional practices such as grazing domestic animals and medicinal herb gathering are criminalized, these enforceable rules, as is often the case in China, are deeply ambivalent about the human beings whose home has always been those lands now declared to be nature reserve. May they stay, or must they go?

On one hand, the regulations state: “Article 5. The local economic construction, the production activities and everyday life of local residents shall be properly taken into consideration in the establishment and management of a nature reserve. Article 14. Proper consideration shall be given to the integrity and suitability of the protected objects and to the needs of local economic construction, and production activities and the daily life of local residents while determining the ranges and boundaries of nature reserves.”

On the other hand, the same regulations also state: “Article 27. Nobody may be allowed to enter the core zone of nature reserves. If it is necessary for the residents living in the core zone of a nature reserve to move out, the local people’s government shall make proper arrangement to have them settled down elsewhere. Article 35. Any unit or individual who, in violation of these Regulations, is engaged in such activities as felling, grazing, hunting, fishing, gathering medicinal herbs, reclaiming, burning the grass, mining, stone-quarrying and sand dredging, shall be punished according to relevant laws, administrative regulations. Article 24. The public security organ of the region where the nature reserves are located may set up its dispatched agency within the nature reserves to maintain public security if necessary. Article 25. The units, residents in the nature reserves and the personnel allowed to enter into the nature reserves shall comply with various regulations of administration, and subject themselves to the management institutions of the nature reserves.”

This ambivalence towards local communities whose homelands are proclaimed a nature reserve is not unusual. Many laws and regulations in China do the same, as will become apparent.

China’s official nomination proposal specifically labels traditional pastoral land use a threat, along with more obvious dangers. In a section on threats, China’s application (p 137) for Hoh Xil states: “Human activities such as harvesting, hunting, herding, road building, and urban construction still impose negative impacts on nature; the affected ecosystems and wildlife habitats can’t recover fast enough.” China’s hostility to Tibetan pastoralism is explicit (p139): “Grazing, in particular, threatens the existence of the pristine ecology and wildlife in the core zone. Grazing can deteriorate wildlife habitat and competes with wildlife for land.” In reality, Tibetan mobile pastoralism and migratory wild herds co-existed, intermingling, for thousands of years, with no suggestion of any species being under threat.[5]

what-fencing-does-to-chiru-fox-09

What has grievously disrupted chiru habitat and mobility in recent years is China’s policy of mandatory fencing. Several wildlife biologists have documented the harm done to migrating chiru by the official policy of requiring Tibetan pastoralists, at great expense, to fence the lands allocated to them.  A team of three wildlife conservationists in 2009 showed that, while chiru can often leap fences, they also often are stranded on them, and die slowly.[6]

Everything China says denies the ongoing Tibetan human presence in Hoh Xil, and long history of Tibetans sustainably curating the land. If China’s proposal is taken at face value, there is no need for UNESCO and/or IUCN to seek out local land users and discover which mode of wildlife protection they embrace –top-down or bottom-up, World Heritage or Sacred Natural Site. The danger lies in the scientists of IUCN, acting for UNESCO, accepting the framework presented by the scientists who have written this nomination, in which Hoh Xil is all about tectonic evolution, geology, petrology, geochemistry, biology, botany and zoology. These are the focus of the 188 pages of China’s application, while at every turn denying a contemporary human presence.

 

INGRAINED SEDENTARY BIAS

China’s insistence that this is an empty, unpopulated land and hence no need for consultation or the negotiation of free, prior and informed consent, is based on China’s hukou household registration system. Hukou registration requires each citizen of China to have a specific address which, if rural, prevents migration to cities, except for temporary employment.

The hukou system, often criticised because it impedes free movement of labour and suppresses the wages of rural migrants, is, in nomadic pastoral areas, based on a fiction. Administratively, even Tibetan pastoral nomads live in villages, of known location. As these are usually in overwintering areas, and as pastoralists make most use of Hoh Xil in summer, in the rain months, Hoh Xil can be declared a “no-man’s land.”

This is a profoundly sedentary definition of livelihoods that in reality thrive on mobility. By categorising pastoralists making skilled use of the 77,000 sq. kms of Hoh Xil/Sanjiangyuan putative World Heritage as non-resident, there is no need to trigger the many provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 8j of the Convention on Biodiversity, and the many human rights instruments that require at the very least effective consultation with local communities, at best comanagement with local communities as equal parties with the state.

By declaring the human Hoh Xil production landscape users non-existent, China effectively declares them a migratory species, like the chiru.

Categorising indigenous peoples as fauna has a long and sad history, for example, the British declaration that Australia was terra nullius, an empty land whose human inhabitants could be ignored, with whom no negotiations or treaty was necessary.

China has a long history of categorising Hoh Xil as “no-man’s land”, making China’s “conquest” of Hoh Xil’s altitude during the railway construction all the more heroic.

When the single gtrack rail line to Lhasa became operational in 2006, China issued stamps in celbration, aqnd China daily announced: “The Chinese State Post Bureau issued a set of stamps on Saturday to mark the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s longest plateau railroad. The set, including three stamps, with each 80 fen (10 US cent) of face value, respectively depicts a train running through the Hoh Xil no man’s land, a train climbing over the Tanggula Mountain and the Lhasa Station, the railway’s terminal. The railway is projected to help double tourism revenues by 2010.”

stamps-hoh-xil-railway-lhasa-stationlhasa-railway-stamp-2001

 

TIBETAN GUARDIANS OF WILDLIFE PROTECTION

Despite the increasing aridity of the Changtang and Hoh Xil, these huge areas are populated, and are not at all “no-man’s land.” This is even more so of the adjacent Sanjiangyuan nature reserve which includes the best pasture lands of the Tibetan Plateau, and the most densely populated. If, in some areas, there are no people left, it is because they have been removed, by official decree, in the name of conservation, not because these districts are inevitably a “no-man’s land.”

Removing people from these breeding and birthing grounds of the prized chiru antelope does not advance the cause of conservation; it removes the guardians of wildlife, leaving the land open to poachers. The core of Hoh Xil is Chumarleb, a county abundant in chiru, vulnerable to illegal hunters with rifles because of the soft downy fur of their underbellies, used to make the softest and most luxurious of shawls: shahtoosh.

kekexili-mountain-patrol-kekexili-15912

 

Tibetans of Hoh Xil and adjacent rangelands have been proactively protecting endangered wildlife for decades, ever since the compulsory herding of Tibetans onto livestock communes and state farms ceased. The Tibetans of these drylands cared so deeply for the wild animals that had always mingled with their domestic herds that they formed their own patrols, scraping together just enough money for fuel to head out into the toughest terrain to chase after interloping hunters with rifles, who killed chiru antelopes (pantholops hodgsonii) just for a handful of downy underbelly fur.

Out on the alpine desert, at an altitude so high even the fittest cannot run, there were no regular police, China’s law enforcement capacity did not extend that far, and it was, as the 2004 hit film Kekexili: Mountain Patrol vividly depicted, man on man, and each in danger of being swallowed by sandstorm or sinkhole. Nothing deterred these courageous Tibetans appalled at decades of slaughter of chiru, which they had been powerless to prevent. In the early 1990s, with new laws ostensibly outlawing indiscriminate poaching, they were given minimal authority to arrest hunters they could catch, and hand them over to the office-bound police. This was China’s lawless wild west.

kekexili-mountain-patrol_poster_goldposter_com_4In the 1990s, as China’s wildlife protection laws falteringly came into force, it was Tibetans who patrolled these cold and arid expanses, with little equipment, and almost no budget. Initially the authorities were happy to spare themselves the expense of serious enforcement, relying instead on outsourcing regulatory compliance to the mountain patrols of Tibetans scraping together enough fuel to keep their jeeps bouncing across the dunes in pursuit of the slaughterers, often arriving to late, to find a pile of dead chiru. Not only did local governments outsource enforcement to Tibetan environmentalists, their successful mountain patrols became news, resulting in a famous 2004 movie recreating their dangerous work. Mountain Patrol or Kekexili –it was marketed under both names- became a film festival hit, a wild west true adventure, featuring men who do whatever it takes to bring to justice the chiru killers.

These were local Tibetan men, whose hearts grieved at the mass slaughter. The hunters were seldom local. They were largely Hui, Chinese Muslims coming from other areas of Qinghai, in search of quick money. In scenes where the environmentalists and the poachers confront each other, non-Chinese audiences struggle to identify the ethnic differences, and, as the movie was made in China, it conforms to the official policy of downplaying ethnicity, and does not help the viewer work out who’s who. The harsh landscape featured strongly, a revelation to Chinese audiences who had little idea there is, in their backlot, a frigid, high-altitude desert where men, in mortal combat, move with the balletic slowness of Tibetan monastic courtyard dancers, so thin is the air.

kekexili-jeeps

It was a great hit in China, coming out in the same year Chinese and Tibetan environmentalists persuaded central leaders to halt the hydro damming of a wild river in the far southeast, the Nu. China’s government could occasionally be persuaded to change policy. In 2016, it is hard to imagine such a film could be made in China, or pass censorship, or go on to popular success.

A decade ago, these Tibetan successes were openly celebrated in China’s official media. Beijing Youth Daily reported: “On 18 January 1994 Sonam Dargyi and four employees in Hoh Xil patrol confiscated 1600 skins of Tibetan antelopes and seven cars. On the way back they were attacked by other poachers and Sonam Dargyi was killed. Only a few days later his corpse was found. In May 1995, Taba Dorje, an official of the Standing Committee of the Yushu County People’s Congress in Qinghai, returned from his office and built the Ranger Patrol. He called his armed anti-warring group “Wild Yaks “. This group was strong up to 64 men. Only a small part of the staff were officials in Zhidoi (Drito) County. Most were ex-soldiers and unemployed young people. There were even former poachers who had converted to the good. This group was very successful. It covered dozens of cases of poaching and confiscated about 10,000 antelope skins. On 8 November 1998, Taba Dorje was killed. Liang Yinquan was his successor.  At the end of 2000 this group was officially disbanded and 24 employees were transferred to the Administrative office.”[7]

kekexil-movie

 

The film Kekexili: Mountain Patrol   made a major impact at the highest level. Chiru antelopes achieved such a high profile that they became cute mascots for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But official China, having been embarrassed in the late 1990s at outsourcing wildlife protection law enforcement to Tibetan cowboys, was embarrassed all over again by the 2004 movie, and that prompted the creation of the Hoh Xil nature reserve. Not only was the state, at last, fully in charge, the local Tibetans rapidly became surplus to requirements. Henceforth Chumarleb (Qumalai in Chinese) would be directly under the protection of the state, which soon decided, as the new policy of “closing pasture to grow grass” tuimu huancao became the master narrative that the Tibetans were now a danger to nature, as their herds ate the grass. The Tibetans went from hero to zero.

Now the brave Tibetans who lost their lives, shot by illegal hunters, are officially forgotten, as the state shunts aside all community based wildlife protection, and, under the World Heritage banner, makes biodiversity conservation solely a state operation, with no backstory, with memory of past Tibetan efforts erased. China’s case is focused solely on scientific fact, with no human element.

yingying-chiru-a-target

In official discourse, the Tibetans of Hoh Xil no longer have a role to play in risking their lives to energetically pursue chiru poachers. Worse, their routine rotational grazing of their domestic herds, always moving on so as not to exhaust the grass, is also considered a threat to China’s watersheds. It is no coincidence that Hoh Xil is at the start of the long route of the Yangtze, which not only provides central China with most of its water, but, if current 13th Five-Year Plan announcements are implemented, waters from the upper Yangtze will also be dammed and diverted to the parched Yellow River of northern China. In the name of protecting “China’s Number One Water Tower”, namely Hoh Xil and further downstream in Tibet, pastoralists are being removed, often far from their pastures. One example is the roadside settlement of Tibetans taken from Chumarleb, recently inspected by Xi Jinping, on his tour of the Qinghai industrial city of Gormo (Golmud). It is at Gormo, on the outskirts of a petrochemical industrial town that employs almost no Tibetans that the displaced of Chumarleb are parked, on either side of the highway from inland China to Lhasa, with its endless traffic of trucks thundering past laden with anything and everything China manufactures, coming back usually empty. Xi Jinping, after inspecting, declared himself well pleased. Gormo is far to the north of Chumarleb; it is not possible to return.

Current official policy is based on the assumption that traditional Tibetan pastoral production is incompatible with wildlife conservation, even though Tibetans have died protecting chiru from poachers, and is incompatible with watershed protection and thus has outlived any usefulness.

This is in contrast to the approach taken by two of the world’s biggest environmental NGOs, Conservation International (CI) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), both of which have worked with Tibetan nomads, in Hoh Xil and the Changtang, to conserve wild animals while also respecting the needs and livelihoods of pastoralists. The experiences of WWF and CI show that it is possible to enlist the local nomad population as allies in biodiversity conservation, even when the needs of the herders and the needs of wild species clash. This occurs most acutely in the case of the drong, the wild yak. Tibetan pastoralists have spent thousands of years breeding strains of domestic yaks that are considerably smaller than wild drong, and more docile by temperament. For this reason, pastoralists fear drong getting into their herds, and mating with dri (female yaks). Similarly, the wolf is much feared, for the harm it does to sheep. These are legitimate concerns, if the pastoralists –the only long-term resident population- are to be part of the solution, and not excluded. This was recognised in 1997, when the University of Tromso, in Arctic Norway, forged a partnership with the Chinese agency officially responsible for administering the Changtang nature reserve, the TAR State Forestry Bureau, the local arm of the Ministry of Forestry. It mattered little that it has been thousands of years since trees grew in Hoh Xil or Changtang, or that the Forestry Bureau had little experience managing rangelands: they were in charge. At that time, the recently established Changtang nature reserve, far from its human population dwindling, was gaining population (to the alarm of George Schaller), adaptably making use of modern mobility, namely auto mobility or more specifically trucks, which enabled nomads to widen their range.

This coincided with the ending of the Hoh Xil Tibetan ranger patrols, after the murder of Tibetan rangers shocked Chinese everywhere; and the declaration of Changtang nature reserve in 1993. The state was officially committed to effective wildlife conservation, but in practice struggled to be effective. Staff were allocated, rather than choosing to be stationed in such a remote area, and had little motivation.

World Wildlife Fund, in partnership with Tibet Forestry Bureau, in 2002, established six wildlife protection stations inside the Changtang, supported by a Tibetan staff of three in Lhasa.[8] WWF staged workshops “to generate conservation awareness among local leaders, reserve managers, and nomads. Selected managers were trained in specific skills.” They set up simple but profitable businesses capable of generating income to support local conservationists. One, in Changtang Nyima County, transported sheep to the nearest market town, where nomads could get almost double the price when they sold surplus sheep to itinerant traders, on their own pasture. Much of the profit was set aside for a compensation fund, for pastoralists who lost animals to attacks by bears, wolves or snow leopards, thus reducing pressure of pastoralists, often living subsistence lives, to kill wildlife. A locally-financed compensation fund is a simple but effective idea, with demonstrable results. Another business idea promoted by WWF in Changtang Tsonyi County was to build a commercial greenhouse, again using the profits “to finance a compensation fund for victims of human-wildlife conflict.”[9]

In China’s nomination for World Heritage listing, none of this is mentioned.  All that is said (p.134) is that: “Since the nature reserves [Hoh Xil and Sanjiangyuan] were founded, a series of conservation and patrol mechanisms have been set up and have had great success in controlling poaching and illegal mining. Since 2006, there have not been any illegal poaching activities for Tibetan antelopes in the nominated property. In addition, the administrative bureau [of Forests] has been making every effort on conservation and protection such as wildlife migration protection, rescue of injured animals, community conservation education and volunteer participation, which also leveraged the awareness of the public on conservation.” The last phrase seems to refer to how deeply Tibetans care for animals, so deeply at least two were shot and killed by poachers. Overall, agency now firmly rests with the state, if this master narrative is to be believed.

Four pages later (p 138) , China, as applicant for World Heritage listing, promises to: “Enforce the mountain patrol rules; take action against illegal hunting and harvesting; raise the level of patrol budgets; acquire more patrol equipment.” This suggests the danger of poaching is far from gone, and the removal of the Tibetans only adds to the danger.

*****************

If you wish to join the campaign to make Hoh Xil a Sacred Natural Site, under Tibetan community control, please contact:

Stephan Dömpke

World Heritage Watch e.V.

Palais am Festungsgraben

10117 Berlin,  Germany

Tel. +49 (30) 2045-3975 landline

contact@world-heritage-watch.org

 

 

[1] Dr Mechtild Rössler  (2006) World Heritage cultural landscapes: A UNESCO flagship programme 1992 – 2006, Landscape Research, 31:4, 333-353

[2] Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook 4th edition, Footprint Books, 2009, 393-8

[3] Data from Tibet Township Map & Place Name Index, compiled by Tsering Wangyal Shawa, 2014

[4] Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Nature Reserves 中华人民共和国自然保护区条例 [已被修订CLI.2.10458(EN), Decree No. 167 of the State Council,  10-09-1994

[5] YanBo Li, Gongbuzeren, WenJun Li,  A review of China’s rangeland management policies, IIED, http://pubs.iied.org/10079IIED/?a=W+Li

Yanbo Li, Gongbuzeren, Wenjun Li; Making the most of variability: innovative rangeland management in China, IIED 2015, http://pubs.iied.org/17303IIED/?a=W+Li

[6] Joseph L . Fox, Kelsang Dhondup and Tsechoe Dorji, Tibetan antelope Pantholops hodgsonii conservation and new rangeland management policies in the western Chang Tang Nature Reserve, Tibet: is fencing creating an impasse? Oryx, 2009, 43 (2), 183-190

JOSEPH L. FOX of Tromso University, Norway, has focused on large mammal ecology and conservation issues in the Himalayan and Tibetan Plateau region for the past 35 years. KELSANG DHONDUP uses remote sensed and field data on wildlife habitat use to address conservation issues on the Tibetan Plateau, currently (2009) through a PhD programme at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. TSECHOE DORJI , coming from a pastoralist background on the western Tibetan Plateau, currently concentrates on plant ecology related to climate change on the Plateau through a PhD programme at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in collaboration with Colorado State University.

[7] China.org.cn, Beijing Youth Daily, September 8, 2006

[8] WWF In Tibet, WWF China Tibet Program, 16 Feb 2006

Dawa Tsering, John D Farringdon and Kelsang Norbu, Human-Wildlife Conflict in the Chang Tang Region of Tibet, WWF China- Tibet program, August 2006, 95pp.

[9] WWF in Tibet

Posted in China, Tibet | 2 Comments

EMPTYING TIBETAN LANDS FOR SAFARI TOURISM

EVALUATING CHINA’S NOMINATION OF HOH XIL NATURE RESERVE TO BECOME A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE NATURAL PROPERTY

#3 of a series of 3 blogs

WATER VERSUS PASTORALISM

In 2007, China’s leading research institute for making Tibet a scientific object reported that: “No man’s land records of scientific investigation in China for the first time the work of the Tibetan Plateau memoirs, ‘broke into the roof of the world Qiangtang no man’s land,’ a book has been finalized, is being organized by the Academy Press, publishing and printing. In 2007, the expedition team traversed  from the north into southern Xinjiang Kunlun Mountains Ruoqiang, through no man’s land of northern Tibet, near Tibet Highway……” (China’s Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Research Work Summary 2007, China’s Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Research 2007 annual summary Itpcas.cas.cn)

China’s insistence that much of Tibet is “no-man’s land is deeply rooted.

As China’s north-south highway and railway across the Hoh Xil “no-man’s land”  intersect at several places with the west-east uppermost source of the Yangtze, China has already intruded on the most pristine river sources it represents as the guarantor of water purity downriver. The paradox is that mass transit access bisecting a fragile landscape now provides the basis for mass tourist access, while China persists in portraying the entire Hoh Xil as pure “no-man’s land”, hoh-xil-plus-sanjiangyuan-chi-boundariesa wilderness untouched by human hand. To say the least there is a tension between a multimodal engineering corridor bisecting the sources of the Yangtze; and the image China wishes to project, of primal purity.

The tragedy of the present moment is that China’s way of dealing with that tension seems to be to let tourists in, while shutting Tibetan pastoralists out. The pastoralists of the Hoh Xil are depicted as environmental vandals, despoiling the sprawling plateau lands between the glaciers and the thirsty Chinese lowlands.

China’s developmentalist ideology accuses customary land users, the pastoralists, of being both unproductive and unsustainable, hence the need for a “no-man’s land” that can then become Chinese, and filled with tourists. As the eminent Mongol scholar Uradyn Bulag points out: “In recent years, environmental degradation of the Inner Asian steppeland was powerfully symbolised by the sandstorms that swept across Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and northwestern China, the dust reaching as far as Texas, the United States. The environmental catastrophe was brought about by the developmentalist logic, which destroyed the ecological habitats, inducing a reverse human flow, indigenous minorities being evicted from their pastures, which have been closed to create a ‘no-man’s land’, for ecological recovery.” (Uradyn E. Bulag, Hybridity and Nomadology in Inner Asia, Inner Asia, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2004), pp. 1-4

China justifies this contradictory attitude by blaming mobile pastoralists and their herds for land degradation, which threatens watersheds, and Tibet’s reputation, in China’s eyes, as “China’s Number One Water Tower.”hoh-xil-chinas-boundaries-for-unesco-1

At the same time, China invokes planetary climate change as an objective reason for removing the pastoralists, relocated to demoralised, useless existences on urban fringes. China claims climate change as force majeure, necessitating exclosure of pastoralists from their pastures, because a warming climate is causing desertification, especially in the drylands of Hoh Xil and Changtang.

However, the scientific evidence, both from Chinese and global scientists, in report after report, is that in Tibet, including the proposed World Heritage area, rainfall is increasing, river flows are increasing, both due to increased precipitation and glacier melt; and for the first time in thousands of years, lake levels are rising. As both Hoh Xil and Changtang are lake lands, with many of the lakes having inlet streams but no outlets, this is a significant change, suggestive of a return to the conditions when Tibetans first made the Changtang their Zhang Zhung homeland. If anything, the long term trend is conducive to a greater human presence, not less.

A team from China’s leading cold regions research institute, the Academy of Sciences Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, recently measured the size of all 83 of the Hoh Xil’s largest lakes, and found that: “From the 1970s to 2011, the lakes in the Hoh Xil region firstly shrank and then expanded. In particular, the area of lakes generally decreased during the 1970s–1990s. Then the lakes expanded from the 1990s to 2000 and the area was slightly higher than that in the 1970s. The area of lakes dramatically increased after 2000. From 2000 to 2011, the lakes with different area ranks in the Hoh Xil region showed an overall expansion trend. Some lakes were merged together or overflowed due to their rapid expansion.  The increase in precipitation was the dominant factor resulting in the expansion of lakes in the Hoh Xil region. The secondary factor was the increase in meltwater from glaciers and frozen soil due to climate warming.[1]

China’s discourse on degradation emphasises overgrazing by pastoralists (who are constrained by compulsory fencing and fixed land tenure allocations that restrict mobility) and is silent on other causes of degradation. The waves of gold rushes into arid areas of Tibet, ripping river banks, dredging river courses, chopping shrubbery for fuel, diverting river streams, leaving toxic mercury and cyanide in streambeds, are nowhere mentioned in China’s proposal to UNESCO as a source of degradation, and reasons why Hoh Xil is far from pristine, due to recent, uncontrolled greed. A section outlining the history of mining in Hoh Xil and Changtang, above, illustrates this more exactly.

sonam-dargey-ranger-killed-by-hunters

 

 

 

 

UNESCO must be absolutely sure this proposed World Heritage area is not gravely compromised by China’s plans to divert water, on a massive scale, from upper tributaries of the Yangtze via tunnels through the mountains, at least 100 kms long, to upper tributaries of the Yellow River.   China’s published plans for this massive water diversion indicate locations for dams and tunnels very close to the proposed World Heritage property, or perhaps within it. UESCO has already experienced the extreme frustration of having allowed China to define the boundaries of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage property, far downriver on the Yangtze, to exclude the rivers themselves, thus allowing China to construct dams. In vain, UNESCO has protested, only to be told that UNESCO has no jurisdiction or right to question the dam builder.

 

BUFFERING THE WILDERNESS

The ultimate source of the Yangtze (Dri Chu in Tibetan), long veiled in myth, in modernity plays a key role in the romanticisation of the pristine, the pure, authentic, wilderness source, high in the glaciers, which are the guarantors of purity for all downstream. The source is a place for intrepid expeditioners, commemorative plaques, videos and songs, not the main highway carrying everything China manufactures, from soy sauce to surveillance equipment, into central Tibet. Making Hoh Xil World heritage will solve this dilemma, making a virtue of a contradiction. Once it becomes a prized destination, it will be yet another example of how the people’s government enables the masses access to the most special sites, for a photo opportunity to be shown to the folks at home, proof that you are a civilised person who has done the circuit of iconic scenic sites.

Thus it is that the bureaucratic distinction between the three huge nature reserves of the Tibetan Plateau is now dissolving. Of the 77,000 km2 China is now nominating for acceptance by UNESCO, 41.5 per cent by area is in the Sanjiangyuan nature reserve, henceforth to be included in Hoh Xil.changtang-nature-reserve-map-fox

Technically, this added area is not core but buffer, but when one looks at China’s legislation defining these exclusionary categories, one finds the definition of buffer to be highly exclusionary. The nature reserve regulations are clearly aimed at protecting that which is most precious, beautiful and exceptional.[2] The regulations state: “Article 18. Nature reserves may be divided into three parts: the core zone, buffer zone and experimental zone. The intact natural ecological systems and the areas where precious rare and vanishing wildlife species are concentrated within nature reserves shall be delimited as the core zone into which no units or individuals are allowed to enter. No scientific research activities are allowed in this zone except for those approved according to Article 27 of these Regulations. Certain amount of area surrounding the core zone may be designated as the buffer zone, where only scientific research and observation are allowed. The area surrounding the buffer zone may be designated as the experimental zone, where activities such as scientific experiment, educational practice, visit, tourism and the domestication and breeding of precious, rare and vanishing wildlife species may be carried out.”[3]

sanjiang-sat-view-in-china-context-2015_05_26-04_07_26-utcThis leaves a huge area that will remain Sanjiangyuan, the main area where pastoralists are being rapidly removed, required to lead unproductive sedentary lives in peri-urban concrete cantonments.

The addition of 32,000 km2 of Sanjiangyuan to the Hoh Xil, constituting the package now before UNESCO, adds iconic river sources into the mix, which matters a lot to China. In 2015 China floated the idea of making the sources of the three rivers for which the Sanjiangyuan is named –the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong- into national parks.[4] The Qinghai provincial forestry bureau explained that: “The park will cover more than 30,000 square kilometres, including the rivers’ sources in Madoi, Zhidoi and Zadoi counties. If the plan is given the green light, construction can begin as early as the end of this year.” These are pinyin Chinese names for Mato, Drito and Dzato, in Tibetan, names that mean, in turn, the source of the Yellow, source of the Yangtze and source of the Mekong. It is this proposal that has now been upgraded to a World Heritage nomination, with support at the highest level of the party-state.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS

Establishing a World Heritage property solely for wildlife conservation, mass safari tourism and infrastructure engineering corridors is a violation of the human rights of the Tibetan population who will be displaced, demobilised and excluded, in the name of conservation.

A recent survey of similar cases states: there now exists a very detailed and situation-specific set of internationally agreed rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities that should be fully considered by actors involved in conservation initiatives. Distilling this large body of international law to identify key standards that should be upheld in all conservation settings is of utmost importance if conservation actors are to play their part in respecting human rights in the areas in which they work.

 “Over 30 non-exhaustive and non-exclusive categories of rights can be identified which

can be affected by conservation interventions including:

Substantive Individual and Collective Rights

  • Overarching human rights;
  • Women;
  • Children;
  • Indigenous Peoples (collective rights);
  • Traditional governance systems and customary laws;
  • Cultural, spiritual and religious integrity;
  • Assimilation;
  • Cultural traditions;
  • Cultural expressions;
  • Knowledge, innovations and practices;
  • Education and languages;
  • Development;
  • Cultural and natural heritage.

Substantive land, and natural resource rights

  • Lands and Territories;
  • Stewardship, governance, management, and use of territories, lands and natural

resources;

  • Customary use;
  • Sustainable use;
  • Equitable conservation of biodiversity;
  • Protected areas;
  • Sacred natural sites;
  • Food and agriculture;
  • Water;
  • Climate change;
  • Forests;
  • Deserts.

Procedural Rights

  • Benefit sharing;
  • Precautionary approach;
  • Free, prior and informed consent;
  • Cultural, environmental and social impact assessments;
  • Information, decision making and access to justice; and
  • Capacity building and awareness.”[5]

 

All 30 rights listed apply to China’s nomination of Hoh Xil, which cannot proceed unless fully addressed. The specific UN conventions violated if Tibetans of Hoh Xil/Sanjiangyuan are silenced, ignored and disempowered are listed specifically:

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains. (UNDRIP).

Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their  traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard (UNDRIP).

Indigenous Peoples have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards (UNDRIP).

In applying the provisions of this Part of the ILO Convention No. 169 governments shall respect the special importance for the cultures and spiritual values of the peoples concerned of their relationship with the lands or territories, or both as applicable, which they occupy or otherwise use, and in particular the collective aspects of this relationship (ILO 169).

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits (UDHR).

In those states in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language (ICCPR).

States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity (Declaration on the Rights of Minorities).

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching (ICCPR).

 chiru-prehistoric-rock-art-5 chiru-prehistoric-rock-art-4 chiru-prehistoric-rock-art-3 chiru-prehistoric-rock-art-2

AFTER HOH XIL, WHAT NEXT?

If China succeeds in getting Hoh Xil (and its portion of Sanjiangyuan) inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage natural (not cultural) property, the next step would be to nominate the rest of the Sanjiangyuan for inclusion, and perhaps the newish nature reserves beyond Sanjiangyuan, in Sichuan and Gansu provinces, all in prefectures that technically are “Tibetan autonomous prefectures.”

This is not likely to happen immediately. Making a decision on Hoh Xil will take time. UNESCO must send a scientific mission to ascertain the facts independently. The mission will come from IUCN, which sees itself as the global voice of conservation science. Its missions are narrowly scientistic, confining their gaze to the issues China has identified as grounds for inclusion.

Since China has nominated Hoh Xil as a natural and not a cultural site (or a hybrid embracing both, as is the case in China of many pilgrimage mountains on the UNESCO list) IUCN’s investigation and report will in no way focus on culture. If, as China says, echoing Sven Hedin more than a century ago, this is indeed a “no-man’s land”, a “terra incognita” with no cultural history whatsoever. When China, decades ago, applied to have the Tibetan valley of Dzitsa Degu (Jiuzhaigou) declared World Heritage, a similar process occurred, erasing its Tibetan history and connection with the upland pastures, reinventing it as a Chinese fairyland complete with Chinese goddesses.

But Jiuzhaigou is verdant; Hoh Xil is barren, alpine desert. Actually, that is only part of the bigger picture. Sven Hedin, with many pack animals to feed, frequently mentions discovering thick grass, which is the reason the chiru antelopes migrate great distances to give birth to their young in Hoh Xil and, crossing the highway/railway/oil pipeline/high voltage cables, in the Changtang (Qiangtang in Chinese) nature reserve further west.

Contrary to the official master narrative of “no-man’s land”, a trope used over and over in celeb-rating the 2006 completion of the railway line, there is plenty of evidence of human culture in Hoh Xil and in in the lake land of the northern Changtang adjacent. In fact, archaeologists consider the northern Changtang to be part of Zhang Zhung, the birthplace of Tibetan civilisation. Archaeologist John V Bellezza reminds us that thousands of years ago, this now arid land had a more benign climate, more rain, endless lakes, much flattish, open land between lakes and mountains, and the lakes, lacking outlets and gradually becoming salty, were less salty when Tibetans first arrived. His photos of chiru carved into rock by Tibetans thousands of years ago are above.What today seems to be Changtang badlands, little more than cold stony desert, supported farming as well as pastoral nomadism, with stone irrigation channels and remains of villages on the Changtang still to be found today. The Changtang is full too of ancient art, carved into rocks, elaborate burial grounds, citadels and temples. Bellezza sums up his decades of painstaking investigation all over the “empty” northern plan or Changtang: “The hundreds of archaeological sites I have documented point to a land that once hosted larger numbers of more elaborately organised people as compared to more recent times.”[6] Bellezza’s many books, and lengthy tramps all over the Changtang, testify to the richness of that ancient, seminal culture; and to the changes wrought by climate change.

China’s Hoh Xil World Heritage nomination, under the heading of “Human History” (p72) supports this. It states: “According to archaeological research, many Palaeolithic stone tools were found at the alluvial fans of the south bank of the Ulan Ul Lake, which date back to approximately 20,000 years.”

chiru-prehistoric-rock-art-1

However, in contemporary Tibet, “according to historical literature, before the pre-Kuomintang period, there were no residents in the Hoh Xil area due to the bitter cold and anoxic weather.” (72) Which ‘historical literature’ was consulted is not specified. There is a long history in China of restricting research to official annals, which pay little attention to “waste lands.” If Hoh Xil was cold and anoxic (thin air) in the pre-Kuomintang Qing dynasty, and is so today, it has been just so throughout human history and prehistory, with minor variations. The Chinese scientists who wrote this nomination clearly did not ask any Tibetan pastoralists about their history.

Bellezza reminds us of the deep backstory in the Changtang: “The Changthang lakes belt makes up a large portion of Upper Tibet. In the time of Zhang Zhung, these lakes contained fresher water and were subject to a generally milder climate, making them more conducive to human habitation than they are today. The rivers and streams feeding the lake basins constitute great reservoirs of freshwater, and pasturelands abound along these waterways. The all-stone corbelled residences with their hives of small cells demonstrate that the secluded, high-altitude locations were a fundamental part of religious life in the ancient Tibetan upland The construction of large and extremely durable citadels and burial grounds in Upper Tibet points to a people in possession of considerable technological expertise. The great variety of necropolises in the region indicates that intricate beliefs were attached to death and the afterlife. A high level of cultural sophistication is also evidenced in the fine-quality copper alloy and iron objects attributed to archaic era Upper Tibet. The Tibetan textual patrimony that has come down to us since the early historic period describes this material culture with great flourish. Eternal Bon scriptures proclaim that the priests and rulers of Zhang Zhung were attired in sumptuous fur robes, and that they wore turquoise, patterned agates, and meteoric iron talismans, as well as brandishing many kinds of weapons. These literary accounts also hold that the ancient priesthood was very adept in the practice of astrology, divination, magic, and medicine.”[7]

Given this cultural history, present skilful pastoral land use, and abundant archaeological treasures, Bellezza specifically appeals to UNESCO to step in to preserve what remains.[8] This would entail revising the nomination to include culture. China has led the way in proposing World Heritage sites that are classified both as natural and cultural, including many famous Buddhist pilgrimage mountains around China. UNESCO could, in light of the rich history and prehistory of the Tibetan drylands, propose such a reclassification. This move to a more inclusive status –in UNESCO jargon, such sites are called hybrids- is a middle way between the extremes of approving or disallowing China’s current proposal.

CHINA AND UNESCO

The UNESCO World Heritage centre encourages governments to submit proposed World Heritage sites on its “tentative list”, which is public and online. http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/state=cn

China has 54 properties queueing to become World Heritage, some were proposed as far back as 1996. Some of these are Tibetan, notably #10, the sentinel towers built by Tibetans in Kham centuries ago to warn of danger, usually from lowland China; and #52, the Yarlung valley of central Tibet, sacred to the earliest lineage of Tibetan kings (Yalong in Chinese). At #32 on the list is Qinghai Hoh Xil, first proposed in January 2015, a nomination now proceeding.

  1. Ancient Porcelain Kiln Site in China (29/01/2013)
  2. Ancient Residences in Shanxi and Shaanxi Provinces (28/03/2008)
  3. Ancient Tea Plantations of Jingmai Mountain in Pu’er (29/01/2013)
  4. Archaeological Sites of the Ancient Shu State: Site at Jinsha and Joint Tombs of Boat- shaped Coffins in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province; Site of Sanxingdui in Guanghan City, Sichuan Province 29C.BC-5C.BC (29/01/2013)
  5. Baiheliang Ancient Hydrological Inscription (28/03/2008)
  6. China Altay (29/01/2010)
  7. Chinese Section of the Silk Road: Land routes in Henan Province, Shaanxi Province, Gansu Province, Qinghai Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; Sea Routes in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province and Quanzhou City, Fujian Province – from Western-Han Dynasty to Qing Dynasty (28/03/2008)
  8. City Walls of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (28/03/2008)
  9. Dali Chanshan Mountain and Erhai Lake Scenic Spot (29/11/2001)
  10. Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups (29/01/2013)
  11. Dong Villages (29/01/2013)
  12. Dongzhai Port Nature Reserve (12/02/1996)
  13. Dunhuang Yardangs (30/01/2015)
  14. Expansion Project of Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties: King Lujian’s Tombs (28/03/2008)
  15. Fanjingshan (30/01/2015)
  16. Fenghuang Ancient City (28/03/2008)
  17. Haitan Scenic Spots (29/11/2001)
  18. Heaven Pit and Ground Seam Scenic Spot (29/11/2001)
  19. Historic Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton) (20/01/2016)
  20. Hua Shan Scenic Area (29/11/2001)
  21. Jinfushan Scenic Spot (29/11/2001)
  22. Jinggangshan–North Wuyishan (Extension of Mount Wuyi) (30/01/2015)
  23. Karakorum-Pamir (29/01/2010)
  24. Karez Wells (28/03/2008)
  25. Kulangsu (29/01/2013)
  26. Liangzhu Archaeological Site (29/01/2013)
  27. Lingqu Canal (29/01/2013)
  28. Maijishan Scenic Spots (29/11/2001)
  29. Miao Nationality Villages in Southeast Guizhou Province: The villages of Miao Nationality at the Foot of Leigong Mountain in Miao Ling Mountains (28/03/2008)
  30. Nanxi River (29/11/2001)
  31. Poyang Nature Reserve (12/02/1996)
  32. Qinghai Hoh Xil (30/01/2015)
  33. SanFangQiXiang (29/01/2013)
  34. ShuDao (30/01/2015)
  35. Site of Southern Yue State (28/03/2008)
  36. Sites of Hongshan Culture: The Niuheliang Archaeological Site, the Hongshanhou Archaeological Site, and Weijiawopu Archaeological Site (29/01/2013)
  37. Sites for Liquor Making in China (28/03/2008)
  38. Slender West Lake and Historic Urban Area in Yangzhou (28/03/2008)
  39. Taklimakan Desert—Populus euphratica Forests (29/01/2010)
  40. The Alligator Sinensis Nature Reserve (12/02/1996)
  41. The Ancient Waterfront Towns in the South of Yangtze River (28/03/2008)
  42. The Central Axis of Beijing (including Beihai) (29/01/2013)
  43. The Chinese Section of the Silk Roads (22/02/2016)
  44. The Four Sacred Mountains as an Extension of Mt. Taishan (07/04/2008)
  45. The Lijiang River Scenic Zone at Guilin (12/02/1996)
  46. Tianzhushan (30/01/2015)
  47. Tulin-Guge Scenic and Historic Interest Areas (30/01/2015)
  48. Western Xia Imperial Tombs (29/01/2013)
  49. Wooden Structures of Liao Dynasty—Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian County,Main Hall of Fengguo Monastery of Yixian County (29/01/2013)
  50. Wudalianchi Scenic Spots (29/11/2001)
  51. Xinjiang Yardang (30/01/2015)
  52. Yalong, Tibet (29/11/2001)
  53. Yandang Mountain (29/11/2001)
  54. Yangtze Gorges Scenic Spot (29/11/2001)

chiru-in-snow

For China, modernising Tibet has been a menu with many options. Modernising in some areas means mineral extraction, urbanisation and industrialisation, with networks of highways, railways, fuel pipelines and power grids to connect these enclaves to each other and to lowland China. When people think of modernity and development, that’s what usually comes first to mind.

But modernity can also mean setting aside areas of limited human utility for conservation, showing that the state cares for biodiversity and international treaties meant to protect wildlife. Drawing red lines round nature reserves, national parks, even declaring World Heritage areas, all declare the state to be in command, inscribing its agenda on the land and people.

Modernity by whatever means possible has long been China’s agenda for Tibet, making the state a tangible presence, in lands that have never had much governing from anyone.

It makes immediate sense that industrial, extractive and urban enclaves are located in areas endowed with minerals, hydropower potential, along trade routes, on rivers, in well-watered districts where the terrain is rolling rather than rugged. These are what economists call factor endowments.

That leaves the badlands: the alpine deserts of upper Tibet, where even the last wisps of the Indian monsoon and the East Asian monsoon seldom reach. High, dry and most of the year intensely frigid, these are the waste lands, where modernity instantiates as nature reserves, nobly serving a purpose wider than immediate human wealth accumulation. This is modernity at its best, paying due heed to the needs of nature.

This evaluation considers all three of the very large nature reserves China has declared, in the most arid portions of the Tibetan Plateau. The Changtang, Hoh Xil and Sanjiangyuan (Three River Source) nature reserves are considered together because they are together, in one contiguous, interlocking belt that stretches right across the entire Tibetan Plateau west to east. In this trio of nature reserves, Hoh Xil is literally central, with Sanjiangyuan to its south and east, Changtang to its west. If Hoh Xil becomes UNESCO World Heritage, the others will most likely follow. In fact over 41 per cent of the Hoh Xil area nomination is actually Sanjiangyuan, now redesignated as “buffer zone” of the proposed Hoh Xil World Heritage area.yak-genetics-intangible-heritage-2016

But modernist management simplifies its objectives to conform to the remit of the administering agency of state, to the point where land use outside of official policy is at best seen as problematic, at worst illegal, to be punished. The wild herds of chiru antelopes which migrate annually into this remote area to give birth during the summer flush of grass growth are now the sole purpose of this northern plain –Changtang in Tibetan. The migratory chiru, the wild yak, the wolf, bear, kiang (wild donkeys) and wild drong yaks, are now the sole, exclusive legitimate land use. The conflict between conservation and human use was foundational, and has become China’s model for extending exclusion to other areas of Tibet, in the name of wildlife conservation or, more recently, the growing of ungrazed grass, in the name of carbon capture and climate change mitigation.

From the outset, this was an American idea whose time had come. Advocacy was led by George Schaller, of Bronx Zoo and its Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an effective lobby for this dualistic zero/sum model. The extent of official protection, to the exclusion of other human uses, especially pastoralism, has increased to the point that the UN now classifies the North Tibetan Plateau-Kunlun Mountains alpine desert as having 67 per cent of its total area under official protection, far in excess of the global goal of 17 per cent of each ecoregion protected.[9] This ecoregion is both frigid and arid, being the highest plateau terrain, and furthest from the reach of rain bearing clouds in any direction. It is this ecoregion where the push for official protection began, as a global as well as a Chinese campaign whose public face was George Schaller, of the Wilderness Conservation Society. To Tibetans, this is upper Tibet, seldom visited, but important as the area where antelope go to give birth, in the brief summer when herbage is plentiful.

Tibetans are glad this vast northern plain, the Changtang, is officially protected. They are less sure that protection should extend to the wild yaks, lest they mate with their domestic females, undoing generations of breeding of yaks of a manageable size and docility. Other than that, the Tibetan pastoralists who make occasional use of the Changtang are pleased official protection is meant to end the indiscriminate slaughter of wild animals which was a popular sport among Chinese soldiers stationed in Tibet in the revolutionary period.

Schaller writes at length, and with passion, about his campaign to protect the Changtang: “The Tibetan Plateau had infected me, particularly the Chang Tang. The name enchants. It conjures a vision of totemic loneliness, of space, silence, and desolation, a place of nowhere intimate –yet that is part of its beauty. I had long wanted to explore its secrets. In 1984 I finally had the opportunity to penetrate its vastness.”[10] By 1991, Schaller was ready to propose official state protection: “After my surveys in1988 and 1990, I discussed the need for a reserve with the Tibet Forest Bureau, and we also considered potential reserve boundaries and options for managing livestock and wildlife. The creation of a reserve is a complicated political process, needing the cooperation of forestry, agriculture, military, and other departments. However, the government of the Tibet Autonomous region was then becoming seriously concerned about conservation, and in December 1990 it approved in principle the establishment of a Chang Tang Nature Reserve.”[11]

Although there is neither forestry nor agriculture in the Changtang, these were the departments in charge, along with the military, who Schaller lobbied. Entirely absent from the negotiations were the Tibetan nomads. From the outset, inherent in Schaller’s case, was a sharp critique of pastoral nomads as destructive of wildlife, especially of the wild yaks, but also of the kiang wild donkeys and chiru antelopes. Schaller continued campaigning for the Nature Reserve to be bigger, and to press for official rules excluding Tibetan pastoralists: “Some areas need to be closed, at least during certain seasons. Use of the basin by nomads should be carefully regulated. Population growth will make sustainable management of resources in the reserve increasingly difficult. To limit such growth, further immigration should be prohibited.”[12]

The seed was sown. Even though Schaller’s own narrative is of the slaughter being instigated by officials, to feed Chinese labourers on construction projects[13] and Muslim Chinese gold diggers,[14] Schaller took every opportunity to express his concern that Tibetan pastoralists would build permanent homes in the Changtang and degrade the pasture. [15] Schaller reports a party secretary assuring him that hunting has been banned, yet Schaller noticed a freshly shot Tibetan gazelle in the back of the official’s SUV.[16] But he was concerned that the 1993 legislation officially establishing the Changtang nature reserve, an area the size of Schaller’s native Germany, was “not as a wilderness to be set aside as a park but as a multiple-use area where the needs and aspirations of the nomads must be considered.”[17]

CREATING WILDERNESS ON THE RANGELANDS

The recourse to state power as the ultimate solution to problems of conservation, and the exclusionary power of the state as the guarantor of successful conservation, espoused by Schaller, has increasingly become China’s model, and rationale, for the creation of protected areas, not only in the remote Changtang but in the best pasture lands of the Tibetan Plateau.

The model outcome is an ideal type, a Platonic form existing nowhere on the inhabited earth, of pristine wilderness. The romantic ideal of wilderness is almost by definition, uninhabited by human animals. Schaller, whose soul aches for the lonely wilderness, and who tells us how disinclined he is to listen to nomads, [18] wants nothing less than the wildest of wildernesses, in which the state stands guard to prevent any human predation.

This sharply dualistic opposition of man and nature, hardly Schaller’s invention, has increasingly informed China’s approach to Tibet. We now have, on official maps and plans, a sharp, territorial distinction between Tibet’s production landscapes, which are shrinking, and protection landscapes, which are growing.

Man, the despoiler of nature, is an embedded concept of European culture, not of China’s. It is the obverse of man, whose rightful place is to proclaim dominion over all the earth and all therein. Man as part of nature is not part of the European tradition, but it is in Chinese Taoism and Buddhism, and in the figure of the cultivated Confucian sage who cultivates learning for one’s self by writing nature poetry arising from immersion in nature. When China a century ago cast aside its traditions, and instead embraced Mr. Science, the sharp distinction science makes between observer and the observed became the norm.

In a revolutionary, irreligious China, nature became the ultimate Other. Mao exhorted the Chinese to conquer nature, by sheer force of human will, which could even remove mountains. Inevitably, given the opposition of man and nature, there have also been times, especially in more recent years, when nature has been on a pedestal, admired and revered for offering everything we humans lack.

China’s system of nature reserves, the term China uses for officially protected areas, is squarely based on nature as Other, to be kept apart from the depredations of humanity by strict regulations and red lines on maps. China’s nature reserves are places of exceptional beauty, and especial richness of rare wildlife, or landforms of breathtaking angularity, or hotspots of biodiversity. A survey of nature reserves published in 1989 groups its list of all the reserves that then existed into broad categories: representative samples of natural ecosystems, paradises for rare animals, refuges for ancient plants, beautiful natural parks, and natural geology museums. [19] Those are the chapter headings, following common practice worldwide.

antelope-dance-drama-2 antelope-dance-drama

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Hoh Xil should be classified as a hybrid, mixed site of both natural and cultural significance. UNESCO should advise China its application cannot proceed solely as a natural site. Human use of Hoh Xil is as old, perhaps older than at Yarlung, Tibet’s valley of the kings, which China put on the World heritage tentative list in 2001, explicitly as a “mixed” natural/cultural property, listing in some detail its historic importance to Tibetans and thus to the world.
  • Any mission sent on behalf of UNESCO to assess Hoh Xil should include not only wildlife scientists from IUCN, but also archaeologists from ICOMOS and/or ICROMH, capable of surveying 77,000 km2 of drylands with little archaeological research conducted until now.
  • Any mission on behalf of UNESCO should be given time and access to this huge area, almost twice the size of Switzerland, to ensure there is no mining or resource extraction anywhere within the proposed World Heritage area. Mindful of UNESCO’s recent and repeated experiences of mining in the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan, any repeat failure to impose UNESCO standards is unacceptable.
  • UNESCO should obtain assurances that any plans to divert waters of upper Yangtze tributaries to the upper Yellow River do not in any way impinge on the proposed Hoh Xil World Heritage property.
  • Any management plan for a World Heritage Hoh Xil property must include participatory co-management; with local pastoralist communities empowered to jointly make decisions, together with the state party, as equals. The experiences of WWF and Conservation International in the Changtang and Hoh Xil nature reserves show that it is possible to achieve conservation objectives and enhance local livelihoods at the same time. UNESCO faces a real choice between a proven record of local Tibetan communities successfully protecting endangered wildlife by putting their lives on the line; and state-sponsored official conservation amid a tourism surge.
  • UNESCO should prioritise meeting with civil society in Hoh Xil, notably with the Tibetan NGOs campaigning for Chumarleb to be declared a Sacred Natural Site (SNS). SNS is a concept more closely aligned with traditional Tibetan drivers of effective stewardship and active protection of wildlife from poachers. SNS does not necessitate an overpowering state presence, or decision-making centralised in distant cities. SNS is in many ways preferable to World Heritage inscription, as it respects community control and does not encourage mass visitation and a mass tourism industry. Sacred natural sites have long served as a primary conservation network for conserving nature and culture. The rapid degradation and loss of sacred natural sites severely threatens critical biodiversity, ecosystem services, cultural resources and even ways of life. Recognizing sacred natural sites supports community autonomy, promotes effective management and gives voice, rights and action to local people. Faith, spirituality and science provide different but complementary ways of knowing and understanding human-nature relationships. Successful co-existence of sacred natural sites and modern economic imperatives requires a better understanding of their interrelationships, and of the broad values and benefits of sacred natural sites for human wellbeing and development. Sacred natural sites as nodes of resilience, restoration and adaptation to climate change offer opportunities for recovering ecologically sound, local ways of life. Local commitment, wide public awareness, supportive national policies and laws, state protection and broad international support are essential for the survival of sacred natural sites.[20]

******************

If you wish to join the campaign to make Hoh Xil a Sacred Natural Site, under Tibetan community control, please contact:

Stephan Dömpke

World Heritage Watch e.V.

Palais am Festungsgraben

10117 Berlin,  Germany

Tel. +49 (30) 2045-3975 landline

contact@world-heritage-watch.org

 

 

[1] YAO Xiaojun, LIU Shiyin, LI Long, SUN Meiping, LUO Jing, Spatial-temporal characteristics of lake area

variations in Hoh Xil region from 1970 to 2011; Journal of Geographic Science. 2014, 24(4): 689-702

YAO Xiaojun, LI Long, et al,  Spatial-temporal variations of lake ice phenologyin the Hoh Xil region from 2000 to 2011, J. Geogr. Sci. 2016, 26(1): 70-82

 

[2] A detailed examination of China’s regulatory regime for protected areas, and George Schaller’s role in persuading China to establish nature reserves in Tibet, are to be found in Wasted Lives, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights & Democracy, 2015, portions of which are reproduced here with permission. http://tchrd.org/wasted-lives-new-report-offer-fresh-insights-on-travails-of-tibetan-nomads/

[3] Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Nature Reserves 中华人民共和国自然保护区条例 [已被修订CLI.2.10458(EN), Decree No. 167 of the State Council,  10-09-1994

[4] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2015-01/27/c_133951132.htm?utm

[5] Harry Jonas, Dilys Roe and Jael E. Makagon, Human Rights Standards for Conservation: An Analysis of Responsibilities, Rights and Redress for Just Conservation, International Institute for Environment and Development, 2014

 

[6] John Vincent Bellezza, The Dawn of Tibet: The ancient civilisation on the roof of the world, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014, 8

[7] Dawn of Tibet, 298-9

[8] Dawn of Tibet, 166

3 Asia Protected Planet Report 2014: Tracking progress towards targets for protected areas in Asia, UNEP, 2014, 26 http://wdpa.s3.amazonaws.com/WPC2014/asia_protected_planet_report.pdf

[10] George B Schaller, Tibet Wild: A naturalist’s journeys on the roof of the world, Island Press, 2012, 2

[11] George B. Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness: Wildlife and nomads of the Chang Tang Nature Reserve, Abrams, 1997, 56

[12] Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness, 154

[13] Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness, 62

[14] Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness, 157

[15] Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness, 125

[16] Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness, 91

[17] Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness, 124

[18] Schaller, Tibet’s Hidden Wilderness, 124

[19] Li Wenhua and Zhao Xianyang, China’s Nature Reserves, Foreign Languages Press, 1989

[20] This recommendation owes much to: McNeely, Jeffrey; Verschuuren, Bas; Wild, Robert; Oviedo, Gonzalo. Sacred Natural Sites. : Taylor and Francis, 2012.

Posted in Tibet | 1 Comment