What is at stake is the viability of human life, all sentient life, indeed all life in Tibet, right across the Tibetan Plateau.

Life on earth exists because life created the atmosphere of the planet, generating the benign environment for the flourishing of all forms of life. A planetary envelope of air with enough oxygen for animals, enough nitrogen and carbon dioxide for plant and aquatic growth, enough CO2 to keep the planet warm but not too hot, and enough ozone to keep out ultraviolet radiation from causing skin cancers and cataracts, is not the outcome of  just physics. It is the collective exhalation of all life on earth.

China has gathered data on ultraviolet radiation since 1961, but paid little attention to it. However, in 2017, all available data were assembled, generating a map showing how much sharper ultraviolet radiation is across the Tibetan Plateau than in lowland China.[1]

That ozone is generated in the tropics, and global atmospheric circulation takes it to shield the poles. That is one insight learned by the scientists who discern the single planetary system that is our collective atmosphere. We are all intimately connected by the air we breathe, as the Tibetan lamas have always reminded us, so to pollute the air where I live is to spit in your face.

Nowhere is more vulnerable than Tibet. Of the three poles, only the Tibetan Plateau is fully inhabited, by the six million Tibetans plus, these days, four million immigrants from lowland China, on 2010 Census figures.

The Arctic experiences worrisome drops in protective ozone levels only intermittently. The Antarctic, uninhabited except by scientists, gets nearly all the ozone attention, precisely because it is a science research hub, and ozone remains a core scientific focus of research, even when public interest in ozone peaked and faded. Further, the ozone hole extends occasionally into Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and even, sometimes, into southern Brazil.

Although it is Antarctica that gets by far the most attention, it is the Tibetan Plateau that is most worrisome. If the world largely forgot about ozone, it has totally forgotten the ozone hole that appears every spring above the Tibetan Plateau. Even Tibetans don’t know much about it.

Scientific focus is overwhelmingly on Antarctica, whether one searches ozone on Google or academic databases, to such an extent one might think Tibet is a minor sideshow. This is not so. There is much, in obscure academic journals, such as the journal Plateau Meteorology, 高原气象,   that comes six times a year, since 1982, which has published 13 articles on ozone starting in 1991. Ozone levels over Tibet have been measured since 1958.

Most such research findings are only in Chinese, and China has done almost nothing to educate Tibetans about the dangers of the ozone holes letting in toxic ultraviolet radiation, so ordinary Tibetans know little, even though scientific research on the Tibet ozone hole (or ozone valley as Chinese scientists call it) abounds.


To be born in Tibet is to experience the precariousness of life, with few modern interventions. As The Lancet said in 2016: “China can in fact be divided into five distinct so-called nations based on the epidemiological characteristics of each. In Shanghai, Tianjin, Zhejiang, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Macao, mortality rates are low and life expectancy is high even compared with high-income countries. In Jiangsu, Hainan, Guangdong, Fujian, Hubei, and Hunan, life expectancy is relatively high because of low rates of ischaemic heart disease and stroke mortality, but rates of cancer and COPD mortality are high. In a third group of mainly north-eastern provinces (Shandong, Jilin, Liaoning, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, Anhui, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, and Ningxia), life expectancy is in the mid-range of all provinces, with high levels of mortality due to ischaemic heart disease, stroke, and cancers.

“In the fourth group of provinces, mostly in southwestern China (Jiangxi, Chongqing, Yunnan, Gansu, and Sichuan), life expectancy is lower than average and rates of COPD mortality are relatively high (although with relatively low ischaemic heart disease and stroke mortality). Finally, Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Guangxi, and Guizhou have life expectancies which are more characteristic of low-income countries. For men life expectancy in 1990 ranged from 55·2 years in Tibet to 74·1 years in Shanghai, a gap of nearly 19 years. By 2013 the range was from 68·4 years in Tibet to 80·2 years in Shanghai, a gap of 11·8 years.”[2]

Although many Tibetans don’t live long enough to get cancer, it is increasingly common, especially as China does little to discourage smoking. Despite the many barriers to accessing health care, Tibetans are gradually living longer, and cancers become more common.



Shigatse People’s Hospital has emerged as a key centre for evaluating the new immunotherapy treatments for cancer, even though the only Tibetans who could pay for such treatment are the yartsa gumbu caterpillar fungus millionaire traders.[3] Who else could finance treatments costing $100,000 or more a year?

This is not an auspicious time to discover an intractable, recalcitrant ozone hole above Tibet.


Scientists have found two ozone holes above Tibet, one at 10 to 18 kms above sea level, and another above it, at 45 kms above sea level, in the outer atmosphere. The uppermost ozone hole seems to be strongly influenced by the 11 year cycle of solar activity.[4]

Since the Tibetan Plateau floor is itself four to five kms above sea level, it reaches so far into the sky it is naturally half way up to the lower, and bigger, ozone hole. The altitude of Tibet makes its naturally prone to ultraviolet radiation that is more intense than elsewhere on earth. It was only in this century that the prevalence of blindness among Tibetans was surveyed, and its causes. The result of a large scale survey near Lhasa of Tibetans 40 or older showed 8.43% are blind, and cataracts, exacerbated by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, was the cause of 55% of blindness, even though cataracts are readilyremediated surgically.[5]

Tibetans are also bombarded with ultraviolet rays to the skin, a primary cause of skin cancer. Traditionally, Tibetans are outdoors a lot, especially pastoralists. In 2009 a team of Tibetan and Norwegian scientists, building on research in the 1990s by a Tibetan researcher Phurbu Tsering[6] (in Chinese Pu Bu C R) reported: “Because of the high altitude of the Tibetan plateau, most UV-controlling parameters are favourable for transferring UV radiation to the surface, making the UV environment on the plateau quite unique. In this paper, the main focus is on presenting results from three and a half years of measurements of UV-B radiation in Lhasa, Tibet. Thus, during spring and early summer relatively large values are recorded. The high level of the UV-B radiation during the growing season may be harmful to living organisms. The UV-B dose rates during the summer on the Tibetan plateau are among the highest at any habituated place in the world. But the amount of harmful UV-B radiation received in Lhasa during the growth season is higher than that received in equatorial regions in Africa.”[7]

They point out that a cloudy day does not shield sentient beings from UV radiation, and may actually increase exposure. In 2009, another Tibetan and Norwegian science team reported that Tibetans, knowing excessive exposure to the sun is damaging, limit direct sunlight on skin, though it is essential to creating needed vitamin D in the body, and those nomads are the most careful.[8] Nomads are well aware of the damage to skin the sun can do, and have long used the whey that separates itself from sho, Tibetan yoghurt to protect themselves.

How can Tibetans now protect against the ozone hole? What can Tibetans in exile around the world, and their friends, do ensure the Third Pole ozone hole attracts the attention it deserves?

The third in this series of three blogs discovers an opportune moment, amid the trade wars, to protect Tibet.



[1] Liu, H., and Co-authors, 2017: Two ultraviolet radiation datasets that cover China. Advances in Atmospheric Sciences., 34(7), 805–815,  free download from: http://www.cmsjournal.net:8080/Jweb_jmr/EN/volumn/home.shtml

[2] Maigeng Zhou, Haidong Wang et al, Cause-specific mortality for 240 causes in China during 1990–2013: a systematic subnational analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study,  2016, Lancet, Volume 387, Issue 10015James Milner, Paul Wilkinson, Trends in cause-specific mortality in Chinese provinces, 2016, Lancet, Volume 387, Issue 10015, 204-205

[3] Pasang Tsering (BaSang CiRen), Xinhua Wang, Ziwen Long, The evaluation of immunotherapy and chemotherapy treatment on melanoma: a network meta-analysis, Oncotarget, 2016, Vol. 7, (No. 49), pp: 81493-81511, http://www.oncotarget.com/index.php?journal=oncotarget&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=13277&path%5B%5D=42141

[4] Huang Fu-Xiang, Liu Nian-Qing, Zhao Ming-Xian, Solar Cycle Signal Of Tropospheric Ozone

Over The Tibetan Plateau, Chinese Journal Of Geophysics Vol.52, No.5, 2009, Pp: 913∼921

Jiao Boyang Su Yucheng Guo, Shengl,i Guo, Dong Shi, Chunhua Li, Jingyuan Cang, Zhongya, Fu Shuai

Distribution of Ozone Valley and Its Relationship with Solar Radiation over Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau,

焦铂洋 苏昱丞 郭胜利 郭栋 施春华 李婧媛 苍中亚 傅帅,青藏高原臭氧谷的分布及其与太阳辐射的关系, Journal of Tibetan Plateau Weather, 高原气象 2017,36(05),1201-1208

[5] Gui-Qin Wang et al,  Prevalence and risk factors for eye diseases, blindness, and low vision in Lhasa, Tibet,  陨灶贼允韵责澡贼澡葬造皂燥造熏灾燥造援6熏晕燥援2熏Apr.18, 圆园13, International Journal of Ophthalmology, 2013

[6] Pu Bu, C.R.(Phurbu Tsering), Sigernes, F., Gjessing, Y., 1997. Ground-based measurements of solar ultraviolet radiation in Tibet: preliminary results. Geophysics. Res. Lett. 24, 1359–1362.

Pu Bu, C.R., 1998. Solar Ultraviolet Radiation on the Tibetan Plateau: Measurement and Modelling. Ph.D. thesis. ISSNL: 0800-6369, ISBN: 82-90569-71-86-98.

[7] Gelsor Norsang , Ladislav Kocbach, Wangmu Tsoja , Jakob J. Stamnes , Arne Dahlback, Pingcuo Nema (Phuntsog Nyima, Ground-based measurements and modeling of solar UV-B radiation in Lhasa, Tibet, Atmospheric Environment 43 (2009) 1498–1502

[8] Gelsor Norsang , LiWei M, Arne Dahlback, Ciren Zhuoma (Tsering Dolma), Wangmo Tsoja et al., The Vitamin D Status Among Tibetans, Photochemistry and Photobiology, 2009, 85: 1028–1031

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Chinese scientists have shown considerable interest in the effects of UV radiation in Tibet on plant growth, less interest in human impacts.

Yet international travellers to Tibet are warned to take great care to avoid sunburn, and to make use of the many traditional Tibetan preventive strategies, such as spreading yoghurt whey over exposed skin.

The German pilgrim Anagarika Govinda, in Tibet 60 years ago, told a worldwide audience: “Tibet is a country where one is ever up against the unexpected and where all accepted rules of nature seem to be changed. The contrast between sunshine and shade is such that if for any length of time one part of one’s body would be exposed to the sun, while the other remained in the shade, one could develop simultaneously blisters, due to severe sunburn, and chilblains due to the icy air in the shade. The air is too rarefied to absorb the sun’s heat and thus to create a medium shadow temperature, nor is it able to protect one from the fierceness of the sun and its ultra-violet rays. When riding, I often found my feet getting numb with cold, while the backs of my hands, which were exposed to the sun while holding the reins, got blistered as if I had poured boiling water over them, and the skin of my face came off in flakes, before I got sufficiently acclimatised. In spite of applying various ointments, my lips cracked open, so that eating and drinking became difficul

t and painful.”[1]

Han Chinese assigned to Tibet felt similarly. China’s interest in understanding short-term weather and long-term climate in Tibet was an early priority. LIPAP, the Lanzhou Institute for Plateau Atmospheric Physics, headquartered well below and beyond the plateau, was the first base for recording ultra violet radiation, starting 1958, when there was no talk of an ozone hole, merely of “oscillations.” China’s meteorologists consistently downplay the dangers of the ozone hole, preferring bland descriptors such as “ozone valley.”

The Institute of Meteorological Sciences of Qinghai was created in the late 1970s and in 1981 formed a special research group planning to map an Atlas of Clouds over the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau. The team took three years, travelling 40,000 kms on rough roads, usually spending one month in each spot to capture the cycles of clouded formation, transit and dispersal. The result, published in Chinese and English, in Beijing and San Diego, in 1986 was the Atlas of Clouds over the Qinghai-Xizang Platea, 212 pages with hundreds of colour photos.[2]

Why was China so focussed on the meteorology of Tibet (Xizang in Chinese)? One reason is that measurements and data published for use by scientists around the world established China as a modernising country that valued science, thus adding legitimacy to China’s alien rule. But the main reason is that the Tibetan Plateau, being due west of lowland China, deeply influences the climate of the lowlands, right across China and into the Pacific as well. China needed to know what was coming, from Tibet.

Tibetan vulnerability to ultra violet radiation would not be problematic if it kept to the levels first recorded in the late 1970s, but as early as 1994 Chinese scientists warned that ozone levels over Tibet were falling, and an ozone hole seasonally appearing.[3] By 2003, the processes forming that ozone hole in May each year were well understood.[4]

Even though that ozone hole has persisted for three decades, the prospects for it to heal have seemed good. In fact, Chinese scientists in 2016 predicted ozone levels over Tibet right to the end of this 21st century, based on known current trends.[5] Their conclusion is that the ozone hole will heal, and once more provide greater protection for Tibetans from cancer-causing UV. This cheery conclusion, of course, is based on the assumption that the manufacture and release of ozone-depleting substances has been stopped, an assumption that turns out to be false.

The Chinese scientists, from key research institutes in Nanjing, also warn of another factor limiting the extent of ozone hole repair, even if foam propellant manufacture is halted. This is the South Asian High, a dominant upper atmosphere feature of the Tibetan Plateau each summer, at approximately 16 kms above sea level, which is 11 kms above the Tibet plateau floor, or 8kms above the highest Tibetan peaks of the Himalayas.

The South Asia High is a major driver of the Indian monsoon, essential to drawing heavy Indian Ocean clouds deep inland. The South Asia High is over the Bay of Bengal in May, pulling in cloud. It then crosses the Himalayas, well above even the highest peaks, and settles over Tibet. At the height of summer it is so big it extends beyond Tibet far to the west, as far as Iran. As summer fades, it fades. The South Asia High causes ozone to mix vertically, up and down, so it is no longer at altitudes maximally effective to protect sentient beings.[6]

The scientists warn: “In the three emissions scenarios, total ozone over the Tibetan Plateau area (26-38°N,75-105°E) shows an increasing trend, but the speed of recovery is slower than that of the global total ozone; that is, the ozone valley over the Tibetan Plateau will significantly deepen.”


Now the Tibetans face a double threat, from global monsoon drivers which no-one can alter, and from man-made ozone depleters manufactured secretly and illegally in China.

Urbanisation is the core of China’s strategy of “great rejuvenation.” Market analysts estimate that China now consumes as much as 55 per cent of all global production of polyurethane foam, and has a substantial export market as well.

Polyurethane is at the heart of Xi Jinping’s “new era”, whether sprayed as insulating foam onto buildings, or in prefabricated rigid sheets to clad apartment towers, or in a thousand familiar uses such as car-door armrests, or to hold the cold inside a refrigerator, sofas, mattresses, car and bus seats, dashboards, refrigerators, insulating heating pipelines, memory-foam pillows, artificial leather, to name a few. The pipeline pumping oil from Gormo to Lhasa is mostly underground, alongside the highway, but where it is exposed, it is coated with polyurethane spray to prevent the pipe from freezing, and the oil get too sluggish to pump.[7]


Polyurethane is made from oil and is now caught up in the trade war between the US and China. China’s chemical manufacturers may experience many difficulties, tempting them to turn even more to the cheapest sources of foam spraying chemicals, even if they harm the entire planetary upper atmosphere, especially at the poles.

Part of China’s new era is a new concern for pollution control, and polluting factories are increasingly inspected by the national party-state monitors, and increasingly the penalties for transgression are high, sufficient to enforce use of the slightly more expensive spray propellants that don’t cause holes in the ozone layer.

China often denies the existence of well-documented problems, such as detaining Uighurs en masse for mandatory recitation of party-state slogans in re-education camps. Only when the number of detainees reached into the millions, and documentation piled up for months, did China minimally acknowledge the issue.

The loss of ozone kilometres into the sky above Tibet is even less visible, it’s not a thing, it’s an absence, and no-one has educated Tibetans to be aware of this danger to skin and eyes, to protect themselves from cancer and cataracts.

China may yet crack down on the polluters, who have for years silently flouted the global rules of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer; or, at a time of trade turmoil, it may back its manufacturers and shield them from scrutiny. Only consistent publicity about the problem will make China do the right thing, if Tibetans speak up for the skies of Tibet.

Expect to hear more as this global effort to rein in China’s rogue foam chemical makers, regains momentum. Just as global science produces every few years a comprehensive synthesis of all that is known about climate change, to establish a fresh consensus on what needs to be done, so too with the ozone holes. Every four years two UN agencies, the World Meteorological Organisation and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) jointly publish the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion. The next is due at the end of 2018, to be launched at the MOP 30 meeting of all signatory governments in Ecuador, November 2018. This issue won’t go away.

In a world in turmoil, no-one wants yet another worry. But someone has to speak up. UNEP administers the Montreal Protocol, but is not a strong and effective UN agency, its headquarters are in Kenya, and its next, decisive move on ozone holes is in Ecuador. Who will speak for Tibet?


Seeking justice, Tibetans have long hoped the UN could deliver it. The UN today is weaker than ever, its authority undermined at every turn by its most powerful members, its organs captured by abusers and polluters. What does get results these days is a swelling wave campaign on social media that focuses attention.

China needs compelling reasons to enforce its own environmental laws, to override local governments protecting local polluters. China is very publicly committed to “constructing ecological civilisation”, and be a world leader in good environmental citizenship.

The gap between rhetoric and reality, between promise and performance, needs to be better known. Despite China’s campaign slogans, it is in reality more focussed on weather than climate, on making more rain over Tibet by blasting Tibetan skies with silver iodide, than the long haul of reducing emissions and halting CFC-11 production. China’s industries and their local government protectors are more focussed on getting crazy rich than on the ozone threat hanging over Tibet.

How to get traction? The omnipresence of polyurethane may be the key. The seats and dashboards of Volvos made in Chengdu are made of polyurethane and exported to the US, unless Trump’s tariffs squash transPacific trade. Where does Volvo get its polyurethane? Can it prove it does not destroy ozone above Tibet as part of its supply chain? This is true of all cars made in China.  There are hundreds of such stories, of global corporations to whom reputation is everything, the key to commanding premium prices for their products, key to raising capital, key to maintaining stock price.

Volvo’s Chinese owner Geely plans to make a massive profit by floating shares in Volvo cars on the Stockholm Stock Exchange late 2018, to nostalgic Swedes who recall the good old days when Volvo was a Swedish company. Auspicious moment for a popular campaign to ensure Volvo polyurethane doesn’t destroy Tibetan skies, or its use of lithium in its advanced electric vehicle plans don’t source lithium from Tibet Tsaidam Basin.

Polyurethane is a global industry, and now attracts much foreign investment in new factories in China making both polyurethane (PU) and its chemical precursor, methyl di-p-phenylene isocyanate (MDI). In a globally integrated commodity chain, at a time the globalised order is already challenged on national security grounds, an environmental challenge may be very timely.

China’s biggest polyurethane manufacturer, Wanhua Chemical Group 万华化学, is also the world’s biggest. Its shares are traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and its biggest nonChinese shareholder is from Quebec. The second biggest manufacturer is the German giant BASF which, in China, is in a joint venture making MDI for polyurethane on a large scale. Polyurethane is one of the most globalised industries, in which the biggest companies worldwide also manufacture in China, or provide technology for China’s manufacturers. US President Trump has singled out polyurethane exported from China to the US for punitive tariffs. The last thing China’s polyurethane industry needs right now is for environmentalists to call attention to the ways polyurethane made in China destroys life in Tibet.



As a child of European migrants to Australia I stayed out in the sun far too often, in the 1950s and 1960s, before white Australians got serious about sun protection. I had my first skin cancer diagnosis when I was 38, and the cancers gradually proliferated, getting more seriously invasive and life-threatening. Now, aged 69, I have had many long and complex operations, repeated cycles of radiation and chemotherapy, with immunotherapy becoming available just when all options seemed exhausted and the doctors telling me I had months left.

I also developed cataracts in both eyes, both dealt with effectively by operations.

The dangers of exposure to ultra violet radiation are to human skin and eyes. Excessive exposure to UV is a primary cause of skin cancers which can gradually metastasize, invading the body, spreading through the lymphatic system, nervous system or into the blood, causing further cancers in other organs, and kill.

Ultra violet in the eyes causes cataracts, a clouding of vision amenable to surgical repair, in countries where surgery is non-infectious and affordable.

Both skin cancers and cataracts are treatable, especially now, with new immunotherapy infusions that remind the immune system to recognise cancer cells and deal with them. However, these treatments are very seldom available to Tibetans, both because of very high upfront costs, and remoteness from hospitals.

Even when the full range of treatments is available, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, they are complex, expensive and may result in a prolonged life, but at a price of impairment, disfigurement and ongoing disability.

For all these reasons, prevention is far better than cure. At sea level, protection is easy: not too much direct sun exposure, use sun protection creams, wear a hat. In Tibet, four or five kilometres into the sky, in thinner air, the danger is greater.

With a persistent ozone hole over Tibet, the danger is even stronger, as ozone is uniquely able to block ultra violet radiation, just one way the planetary atmosphere nurtures all sentient life. Tibetans face an added burden of dangerous ultraviolet radiation.

The ongoing consequences of all those medical interventions, available only in a rich country with a taxpayer-funded public health system, are, for me, cloudy vision in one eye, chronic and irreparable radiation damage to shoulder and neck muscles, constant muscular spasm and tightness, dry mouth, a droopy eye that cannot fully close, and lots more. I need to do exercises frequently to loosen up a bit.

And I am one of the luckiest. If I was in Tibet, I’d have died years ago. Even in Australia, as I sit routinely waiting to see a doctor, in line in a public hospital, I meet people whose cancer history is very similar to mine, but their skin cancer got to a major organ –eye, tongue, throat, brain- and they are more surgically mutilated than me.

So this story of the ozone hole over Tibet is for me personal.

Gabriel Lafitte


[1] Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds, 1968,  61

[2] Science Press, Beijing and Academic Press, San Diego

[3] Zhou, Xiuji and Chao Luo, Ozone valley over Tibetan Plateau, Acta Meteorologica Sinica, 8(4), 505-506, 1994.

[4] Liu Yu, Li Weiliang, ZHOU Xiuji, and HE Jinhai, Mechanism of Formation of the Ozone Valley over the Tibetan Plateau in Summer-Transport and Chemical Process of Ozone, Advances In Atmospheric Sciences, VOL. 20, NO.1, 2003, PP. 103- 109

[5] Su Wei; Guo Dong; Guo Shengli; Shi Chunhua; Liu Renqiang et al,  苏昱丞; 郭栋; 郭胜利; 施春华; 刘仁强; 刘煜; 宋刘明; 徐建军, Ozone change trend and possible mechanism in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the summer of the next 100 years, Transactions of Atmospheric Sciences 2016 vol 39 #3  309- 未来百年夏季青藏高原臭氧变化趋势及可能机制

[6] 覃皓,郭栋,施春华,等. 2018. 南亚高压与邻近地区臭氧变化的相互作用 [J]. 大气科学, 42 (2): 421–434. Qin Hao, Guo Dong, Shi Chunhua, et al. 2018. The interaction between variations of South Asia high and ozone in the adjacent regions [J]. Chinese Journal of Atmospheric Sciences (in Chinese), 42 (2):421–434

[7] Ruixia He, Huijun Jin, Permafrost and cold-region environmental problems of the oil product pipeline from Golmud to Lhasa on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau and their mitigation, Cold Regions Science and Technology 64 (2010) 279–288

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Have we all been so busy disliking Donald Trump we have failed to notice how deeply he has rattled China?

We are so sure we have it right that Trump is an idiot, a self-obsessed, clueless blunderer and serial liar, we have failed to notice China sees him very differently, and is quailing.

How could anybody not get that Trump crashes about, without strategy, attacking America’s oldest allies, cosying up to odious dictators, trash talking everything we hold dear?  If that’s what we tell ourselves, we are missing a much bigger perspective. Even if the stories we tell ourselves are true, that’s not all, and the parts add up to a quite different whole. That’s the conclusion reached in China, at the highest elite levels of the Communist Party and its think tanks.

What we take as Trump’s erratic, unpredictable lashing out in all directions to divert attention from his mistakes and failings, China sees as a masterful tactician exerting maximum pressure to the point where no further concessions can be made, who then shifts his demands elsewhere, while declaring all is well.


What we take to be crude bullying, China sees as concerted bullying by a bully who is willing to take big risks, including short term losses, in order to get his way on a range of fronts, economic and military. Official China recognises that Trump’s bullying can succeed, since the global economy is denominated in US dollars, and China does have to give ground. Above all, China has to stop its adolescent swagger about rising and rising. China has to stop its aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, and tack to minimise the damage. The tone of China’s public face has to become bland and neutral, just like Deng Xiaoping used to urge, not brash and boastful, as it has become.

China is very used to picking its quarrels with care, to bilaterally bully smaller countries into compliance. When Norway gave Liu Xiaobo a Nobel Prize, China stopped buying Norwegian salmon as punishment. There are many such examples.

China’s willingness to finance infrastructure construction in poor countries also came with a nationalistic arrogance that required Chinese workers to do the construction, Chinese finance to be repaid even if the project went sour, and ceding of sovereignty to China of troubled ports if the project went bankrupt.

China was getting a bad name, not only for theft of intellectual property but for its global buying of farmland, mines, factories and hitech; and it didn’t much care. As long as those who resisted were small, or even big corporate airlines flying to Taiwan, they could be bullied, and China was enjoying throwing its weight around.


But facing off against the US, not just about trade but about currencies, corporate takeovers, intellectual property, hi tech plans to make national champions, and regional security, that’s a lot to defend all at once. “Tactically, nearly all scholars concur with Tu’s recommendation that China “seek peace through war” (战争换和平 yi zhanzheng huan heping) in the face of pressure from the Trump administration.”[1]

When Trump made North Korea the issue trumping all others, China gave ground, went along with the demand that sanctions pinching the North Korean economy be applied in earnest. Trump’s bullying may not have extracted anything meaningful from Kim Jong-un, but it did make Xi Jinping yield, and then yield some more, and then more. That is what has led to this rethink, at the top.

The head of the European Council on Foreign Relations told his Financial Times readers: “In Chinese eyes, Mr Trump’s response is a form of ‘creative destruction’. He is systematically destroying the existing institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement to Nato and the Iran nuclear deal — as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington. Once the order is destroyed, the Chinese elite believes, Mr Trump will move to stage two: renegotiating America’s relationship with other powers. Because the US is still the most powerful country in the world, it will be able to negotiate with other countries from a position of strength if it deals with them one at a time rather than through multilateral institutions that empower the weak at the expense of the strong. My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can.

“They speak of the skilful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping. ‘Look at how he handled North Korea,’ one says. ‘He got Xi Jinping to agree to UN sanctions [half a dozen] times, creating an economic stranglehold on the country. China almost turned North Korea into a sworn enemy of the country.’ But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front. For the Chinese, even Mr Trump’s sycophantic press conference with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in Helsinki had a strategic purpose. They see it as Henry Kissinger in reverse. In 1972, the US nudged China off the Soviet axis in order to put pressure on its real rival, the Soviet Union. Today Mr Trump is reaching out to Russia in order to isolate China. In the short term, China is talking tough in response to Mr Trump’s trade assault. At the same time they are trying to develop a multiplayer front against him by reaching out to the EU, Japan and South Korea.”[2]

The CCP directive to turn the boastful  volume right down was issued publicly, in early July 2018, in three sharply worded articles in the CCP official mouthpiece the People’s Daily, aimed squarely at intra-party blowhards who have had free rein to throw China’s weight around, including the People’s Daily’s own inhouse sibling, Global Times.[3] For once, this was not a secret inner party neibu directive the rest of the world only hears of much later, or never. The urgency of the situation, the size and complexity of the party-state required a public shot across the bows of the nationalist boosters, warning them to shut up.

Many who do watch China may not have noticed those People’s Daily diktats, which weren’t translated into the English edition. Thus we may not have noticed how much China’s tone has changed, the sudden absence of hubris.


That change did happen. Donald Trump is responsible.

Fortunately, we have a thorough English translation, by Geremie Barmé, at the tail end of his long post about literary allusions. People’s Daily launched its sibling rivalry: “In order to set right a trend in media writing that favours exaggeration and braggadocio, one that values style over substance, while at the same time taking advantage of this moment to continue our support for writing that is ‘concise, grounded and salutary’ — as articulated by General Secretary Xi Jinping — we champion a vibrant writing style that celebrates shimmering clarity of expression. It is to that end, that starting today the People’s Network is publishing a series of opinion pieces under the title ‘Three Critiques of Writing in a Hyperbolic and Boastful Style.’”

The articles attacked: “Works written in a hyperbolic style with headlines contrived to be sensationalistic, work that presents arrant fabrication as reality, not only are a disservice to the reader, they fail the basic requirements of effective communication while at the same time polluting our media eco-system.”

Signalling the need for a change of tone: ”People must realise that such overblown writing and media reports do not add value; just because a nation trumpets its achievements does not necessarily make it strong. By flaming extreme emotions and erroneously spreading biased ideas you are doing nothing more than encouraging a false sense of reality, reinforcing among your readers purblind smugness and unsubstantiated self-aggrandisement. In fact, articles written in this hyperbolic style reveal nothing particularly new and are actually a cause for concern. For instance, some offer blatant exaggerations and make broad claims on the basis of scant evidence. They trumpet that: ‘It is universally acknowledged that in such-and-such a field China has created a series of “World Firsts”. They declaim: ‘Don’t Worry, China’s real scientific and technical knowhow has already surpassed that of the USA to become Number One in the World’.  Then there are various one-sided fantasies that demand you accept their claims lock-stock-and-barrel; even though they are merely based on a few scant pieces of information from overseas they magnify reality and make such claims as: ‘China is already centre stage in world affairs’; or, ‘China is now the Leading Global Economy.”

We could dismiss this as just a tactical shift that does nothing to deflect China from being tyrannous to its own citizens and obnoxious abroad. Yet the shift is based on a reading of President Trump as a highly recognisable type, familiar not only to China but to anyone who did an MBA in any business school. China has concluded that Trump embodies the art of war, is the ideal general who wins all his battles not by actually waging war but by bluff and bullying, by feints and manoeuvres, by exerting maximum pressure, and by knowing when to step back and declare success, before swiftly moving on the exert maximum pressure on another front.


The same Trump we excoriate for ignorantly following his gut instinct, for not listening to advice, for scrapping the “rules-based order” is Sun Tzu’s ideal type, the warrior who wins by instinct, guts, flexibility and a willingness to stage surprises.

Chinese international relations analysts:  “emphasise Trump’s qualities as a strategist and a negotiator. His ability to hide his intentions and manipulate his opponents’ emotions makes him a skilled negotiator, they argue. They believe that Trump’s upbringing and his education at New York Military Academy have made him a strong, wilful, and efficient leader – a master strategist. His keen sense for the domestic and international political scene allows him to seize opportunities and adapt to changes.”[4]

That China looks at Trump and sees Sun Tzu isn’t because the party-state elite are struggling, and reaching for something familiar; it’s because they see deeper than we do, that in the long run Trump really is aiming at tearing up the “rules-based order” to revert to a 1920s world where might is simply right, those with the gunboats dictate to everyone else, where the US is a mighty fortress, a new creation, a world unto itself, and it can and must dominate everyone by picking quarrels with each and all, as it chooses, in one-on-one contests the US can win. No more multilateralism, no more “rules-based order”, no more diplomatic niceties, no more being world policeman.

China invested a lot in that rules-based order, profiting greatly from accession to the World Trade Organisation and the lowering of tariffs, and the relocation of entire commodity chains to China as the world’s factory. China managed to still find ways of keeping US capital from dominating its industries, inventing lots of new rules and selectively applied regulations to prevent the WTO from working as intended. Having grown fast, for decades, by entering the ranks of middle income countries, China is now poised to shift much its corporate investment, and the factories and mines and agribusinesses, to poorer third world countries, all under the “rules-based order” that many anti-Trumps mourn.


China does not misread Trump, even if they slot him too readily into the Sun Tzu mould. China is used to playing a long game, and recognises in Trump someone who also has long standing ambitions to revert the US to 1920s isolationism, armed with such overwhelming military power it can bestride the world without boots on the ground in endless foreign wars.

Trump in fact has been remarkably consistent in his backward looking vision of great America, and consistent in blaming the multilateral architecture of “rules-based order” that the US wrote and now has to more or less abide by. Elite China rightly sees the pattern that emerges from what we see as chaotic and idiotic. Back to the gilded age, back to the Monroe doctrine, back to might is right, back to bullying, back to all relations being bilateral and thus winnable by the most powerful. Trump has been saying this for decades, to anyone who would listen.

China is listening. Are we?

China now thinks it has Donald Trump’s measure, and knows how to win this kind of war. “Generally, Chinese analysts are optimistic about Beijing’s ability to manage such shifts, for three reasons. Firstly, they view China as increasingly powerful and thus able to exert its influence on US policy and Sino-American relations regardless of Washington’s decisions. Wu argues that Beijing has never had greater resources and experience with which to manage its relationship with the US. Song contends that China has more “strategic determination and execution ability” than Trump’s America. Ruan asserts that China should leverage these advantages to “proactively” mould the relationship. Wu agrees, adding that the relative stability of Chinese foreign policy allows Beijing to “consistently shape positive and constructive” relations with Washington. Many Chinese scholars believe that Beijing is already successfully constraining the US – as seen in, for example, the western Pacific.”[5]

Are we ready for the yangsi rebirth of Sun Tzu?

If China thinks Trump is Sun Tzu reborn, it is deeply convinced it knows all about winning contestation, in the manner of Sun Tzu. It is hard baked into the DNA of the elite that this is how China got to be so great. The historical reality, of course, is that when China was strong and its neighbours weak, it attacked in full force. Tibetans know this all too well, both from the 1950s and the early 18th century. Likewise, the historians know the Sun Tzu (more properly Sunzi) war as an art is an ideal, not historic reality.[6] Sunzi himself urged fully exploiting auspicious moments of military opportunity.[7] But China prefers to believe its own myths.



[1] Tu Xinquan, “Tu Xinquan: In response to Trump’s high-pressure policy, China should ‘seek peace through war’”, Cai­jing Magazine, 28 March 2018, http://yuanchuang.caijing.com.cn/2018/0323/4423634.shtml

[2] Mark Leonard, The Chinese are wary of Donald Trump’s creative destruction, Financial Times, 24 July 2018

[3] 人民网三评浮夸自大文风之一:文章不会写了吗?



[4] Yin Jiwu, Zheng Jianjun, Li Hongzhou 尹继武,郑建君,李宏洲: “特朗普的政治人格特质及其政策偏好分析”, 现代国际关系, 2017, 2, “Analysis of Trump’s political personality traits and policy preferences”, Modern International Relations, no. 2, 2017. English translation: https://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/China_analysis_trump_opportunity_chinese_perceptions_us_administration262   Yin is a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University’s School of International Studies, and Zheng Jianjun is an associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Political Science.

[5]  Ruan Zongze, “Trump’s New Vision and China’s Diplomatic Options”, International Issues Research, volume 2, 2017, http://www.ciis.org.cn/gyzz/2017-03/24/con­tent_9406209.htm

Song Guoyou, “Change of Interests, Role Shifting, and Relationship Balancing – Development Trends of Trump Era US-China Relations”, Contemporary International Relations, volume 8, 2017, pp. 31-36

Wu Xinbo, “The Trump Administration and Sino-US Relations Trends”, New Model of China-US Major-Country Re­lationship Report, volume 19, 2017, Fudan University

[6] Alastair Iain Johnston, Cultural realism: Strategic culture and grand strategy in Chinese history, Princeton, 1995

[7] Ralph D. Sawyer, Martial Prognostication, in Nicola di Cosmo, Military Culture in Imperial China, Harvard, 2009, 54

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Alibaba, itself a corporation named after a fabled faraway, sank $100 million in the making of Asura, which has just crashed at the China box office. Billed as China’s Lord of the Rings, this fantasy epic, filmed partly in Amdo but mostly on computer, was meant to launch Chinese movies to a global audience and be the first in a trilogy. On its first midsummer weekend this stunt-laden spectacle performed so poorly, it was withdrawn and may never be heard of again.

As its’ faux Sanskrit graphics suggest, Asura borrows/appropriates boldly and indiscriminately from Buddhist psychology, starting with the title, referring to the realm of the jealous gods whose life of luxury and indulgence is ruined by envying those in the realm of the higher gods. To Tibetans and Chinese Buddhists, entry into the jealous god realm after exiting this life is a dead end, because the enjoyment of every available sensuous pleasure is spoiled by gossip, jealousy, scheming, trolling, flaming. That sounds rather like Hollywood celeb culture.

Chogyam Trunpa: “The realm of the asuras is highly energetic, almost in contrast to that state of spiritual absorption. It’s as if somebody had been far away a long time from their civilization, in the middle of a desert island, and they suddenly had a chance to come down to the nearest city. Automatically, their first inspiration, of course, would be to try to be extremely busy and entertain themselves, indulging in all sorts of things. In that way the energetic quality of busyness in the realm of the asuras develops.”

In the hands of a stunt coordinator turned movie director this could be the basis for a hit, not only with Chinese audiences but globally, as the cast features plenty of nonChinese actors. That was the plan. But the stunts and the tech wizardry got the better of any semblance of characters audiences can identify with.

For starters, Asura (actually axiuluo in Chinese) is literalised as a person, who has three heads and three personalities, and not latex heads but thanks to the code cutters, three grafted heads pulling this ruler in differing directions, none of which we care much about. Spectacle is all.

And the Amdo backdrops are pretty good.

The movie’s producers, in publicising its midsummer release, emphasized that the plot is based on unspecified Tibetan Buddhist mythology, as if that endears the asura realm, like Tolkien’s Shire of medieval England’s rural origins. Top CCP officials from Ningxia province, base of the movie’s makers, attended a special advance screening. Not even a classic hero, destined to win back his kingdom, played by a 19 year old hot heart throb, Wu Lei, could save this attempt at instant myth. He plays a herdsman, but don’t for a moment think this too is a nod to Tibet, to the drogpa pastoralists who (still) use the actual Qinghai landscapes in the movie to pasture their yaks, sheep and goats. This herdman is dressed to look more like an extra from Life of Brian, from a sword and sandal epic of the Euro mythos of lost origins, a shepherd destined for greatness.

But when screens all over China opened, paying customers stayed away. Asura seems to have fallen into its own jealous god realm, overwhelmed by online negativity, a torrent of trolling from the wangluo shuijun, literally “internet water army” who earn money by trashing reputations, a major industry in today’s China. They are the market economy equivalent of the 50 Cent Army (五毛党),  of internet commentators (Chinese: 网络评论员), hired by Chinese authorities to manipulate public opinion to the benefit of the Chinese Communist Party.

By trying to appeal to all audiences, this movie appealed to no-one. But the producers, swiftly cutting their losses, perhaps in the hope a re-cut might yet save them, instead blamed the trolls.

A fast action movie cut down by the fast action online assembling of negativity.  An artefact of today’s tribalised factional world undone by tribalised jealousy. An evocation of the realm of unlimited desire brought low by unlimited anger. That’s what the lamas tell us is what happens to we wanderers in samsara all the time.






If that is what tanks in today’s China, what succeeds? By far the most profitable and popular Chinese movie is Wolf Warrior 2. Apart from the American villains and largely anonymous African victims, this is an all-Chinese movie, with plenty of violence, culminating in the arch-villain Big Daddy, who we viewers have come to hate, arrogantly declaring there are only two kinds of races in the world: winners and losers.  Big Daddy snarls: “People like you will always be inferior to people like me; get fucking used to it” (这个世界只有强者和弱者; 你们这种劣等民族永远属于弱者; 你必須習慣). At this point, heroic Leng, who has been losing the fight, suddenly gets up on his feet, punches back, and says “that’s fucking history” (那他媽是以前), before beating his white opponent to a pulp. That’s what works in today’s China.



(for once, a short blog!)

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This should be set to music, a dirge for all the stuff the modern world was made of, that all went over to the world’s factory in China, and out of view, coming back to our shores in aisle 12 of the superstore, more and more stuff, cheap Chinese stuff we all bought and bought and threw away or crammed into cupboards and never thought about what they were made of or where they came from.

To an old guy who grew up when cities in the Western world still made stuff, this Trump list of Chinese goods to be slapped with punitive tariffs in September 2018 reads like a trip down memory lane, an exhaustive, obsessive and exhausting list of all the things we used to make, all the industrial feedstocks that went in to making them, in factories down the road or across town, where guys worked their whole worklife and then retired. To an elderly word nerd like me, this list is nostalgia, a catalogue of the sinews of modernity.

The careful categories that live on in the classifications of the US Trade Representative (USTR) office rescue the particularities of how stuff is made, a sound poem of loss that warrants being chanted aloud, like Ginsberg’s Howl. Many of these categories end on a downbeat, on the suffix –nesoi. In trade talk that stands for “not elsewhere specified or included” just to make sure there’s no loopholes. In this official list of over 200 pages, nesoi occurs 1651 times, you needed to know that.

China’s response to this numbing list?  “Where do these lunatic ravings in the White House come from?”  白宫这种痴人说梦式的良好感觉从何而来? báigōng zhè zhǒng chīrénshuōmèng shì de liánghǎo gǎnjué cóng hé ér lái?”

The whole point of the assembling and publication of this list is to generate two months of debate, before they are due to be implemented in September 2018. It’s meant to be a killer move, the knockout blow that forces China to submit to America’s greatness. This encyclopaedia of manufactured modernity will, in theory, overwhelm China precisely because there are just so many more Chinese exports to the US than American exports to China, so China will never be able to come up with a list as big, if it decides to retaliate. Classic Trump logic.

Rather than actually assembling a list of what China actually exports to the US, this list of thousands of producer goods (economists’ bland jargon for stuff used by manufacturers rather than consumers) seems to have been put together by simply taking the entire USTR catalogue and subtracting from it whatever might be recognisable on a Walmart shelf. That’s how you get to the magic number of $200 billion.

Of course, China has myriad ways of making life hard for American companies and exporters into the Chinese market, and these tariffs will be resisted by American manufacturers not wanting to have to raise prices, who now have two months to lobby the Trump administration to stop this escalating trade war. So these tariffs may never come to pass, and if they do, they are set at only 10 per cent.

Since Trump has taken care to avoid, as much as possible, slapping tariffs on consumer goods directly, concentrating instead on the raw materials used in making consumer goods, this list is also a list of just about everything made in Tibet, that reaches China’s urban factories, but very seldom crosses the ocean to the US. So this is also a catalogue of everything Tibetan: animal, vegetable and mineral, whether produced traditionally or extracted by China’s industrialisation.

This impossibly long list contrasts with the more seriously targeted, much higher tariffs announced mid-June, aimed at China’s high tech ambitions. Among the hundreds of Chinese products on which the US has slapped punitive tariffs, there are many items of interest, notably the lithium battery buses manufactured by BYD and sold (with Chinese subsidies) to airports around the world.

https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/june/ustr-issues-tariffs-chinese-products for links to the full list, which is indeed targeted (unlike Trump) at the future, not the past, with specific focus on China’s state-sponsored emergence as a hi-tech competitor with both the US and Europe as producer and exporter of hi-tech.

Because of this forward-looking tariff policy, aimed at the Made in China 2025 list of national champions, we now have at last a real intersection with Tibetan concerns, including not only lithium but also railways and also the soybeans from America that China feeds to its livestock because it never invested in boosting food security in Tibet and is instead removing the nomads from their pastures. Lots of intersections with our various Tibetan stories.

You will come across:  8506.50.00 Lithium primary cells and primary batteries, and  Motor vehicles w/electric motor, to transport 16 or more persons, incl driver 8702.40.61 Motor vehicles w/electric motor, to transport 10 to 15 persons, incl driver. This includes those BYD lithium powered buses that Warren Buffett is invested in ,a company that boasts of its exclusive access to Tibetan lithium-rich lakes in the far west of Tibet. This the bus Xi Jinping boarded in London, to be greeted when stepping off by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge in 2015 http://rukor.org/tibetan-lithium-in-your-pocket/


So here we go:

0501.00.00 Human hair, unworked, whether or not washed and scoured; waste of human hair 0502.10.00 Pigs’, hogs’ or boars’ bristles and hair and waste thereof

0502.90.00 Badger hair and other brushmaking hair, nesoi, and waste thereof

0504.00.00 Guts, bladders and stomachs of animals (other than fish), whole and pieces thereof 0505.10.00 Feathers of a kind used for stuffing, and down

1211.20.10 Ginseng roots, fresh or dried, whether or not cut, crushed or powdered

1211.20.15 Ginseng roots, frozen or chilled

1505.00.10 Wool grease, crude

1505.00.90 Fatty substances derived from wool grease (including lanolin)

2103.10.00 Soy sauce

2203.00.00 Beer made from malt

2204.10.00 Sparkling wine, made from grapes

2204.21.20 Effervescent grape wine, in containers holding 2 liters or less

2206.00.45 Rice wine or sake

2603.00.00 Copper ores and concentrates

2604.00.00 Nickel ores and concentrates

2605.00.00 Cobalt ores and concentrates

2606.00.00  Aluminum ores and concentrates

2607.00.00 Lead ores and concentrates

2608.00.00 Zinc ores and concentrates

2609.00.00 Tin ores and concentrates

2610.00.00 Chromium ores and concentrates

2613.10.00 Molybdenum ores and concentrates, roasted

2613.90.00 Molybdenum ores and concentrates, not roasted

2615.90.30 Synthetic tantalum-niobium concentrates

2615.90.60 Niobium, tantalum or vanadium ores and concentrates, nesoi

2616.10.00 Silver ores and concentrates

2716.00.00 Electrical energy

2801.10.00 Chlorine

2801.20.00 Iodine

2801.30.10 Fluorine

2801.30.20 Bromine

2802.00.00 Sulfur, sublimed or precipitated; colloidal sulfur

2803.00.00 Carbon (carbon blacks and other forms of carbon not elsewhere specified or included) 2804.10.00 Hydrogen

2804.21.00 Argon

2804.29.00 Rare gases, other than argon

2804.30.00 Nitrogen

2804.40.00 Oxygen

2804.50.00 Boron; tellurium

2805.30.00 Rare-earth metals, scandium and yttrium, whether or not intermixed or interalloyed 2805.40.00 Mercury

2819.10.00 Chromium trioxide

2819.90.00 Chromium oxides and hydroxides, other than chromium trioxide

2825.20.00 Lithium oxide and hydroxide

2846.90.20 Mixtures of rare-earth oxides or of rare-earth chlorides

2846.90.40 Yttrium materials and compounds containing by wt. >19% But < 85% yttrium oxide equivalent

2846.90.80 Compounds, inorganic or organic, of rare-earth metals, of yttrium or of scandium, or of mixtures of these metals, nesoi

3102.10.00 Urea, whether or not in aqueous solution

3102.21.00 Ammonium sulfate

3102.29.00 Double salts and mixtures of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate

3102.30.00 Ammonium nitrate, whether or not in aqueous solution

3102.40.00 Mixtures of ammonium nitrate with calcium carbonate or other inorganic nonfertilizing substances

3102.50.00 Sodium nitrate

3102.60.00 Double salts and mixtures of calcium nitrate and ammonium nitrate

3102.80.00 Mixtures of urea and ammonium nitrate in aqueous or ammoniacal solution

3102.90.01 Mineral or chemical fertilizers, nitrogenous, nesoi, including mixtures not specified elsewhere in heading

3102 3103.11.00 Superphosphates containing by weight 35% or more of diphosphorous pentaoxide

3103.19.00 Superphosphates nesoi

3103.90.01 Mineral or chemical fertilizers, phosphatic

3104.20.00 Potassium chloride

3104.30.00 Potassium sulfate

3104.90.01 Mineral or chemical fertilizers, potassic, nesoi

3304.10.00 Lip make-up preparations

3304.20.00 Eye make-up preparations

3304.30.00 Manicure or pedicure preparations

3304.91.00 Beauty or make-up powders, whether or not compressed

3305.10.00 Shampoos

3305.20.00 Preparations for permanent waving or straightening the hair

3305.30.00 Hair lacquers

3305.90.00 Preparations for use on the hair, nesoi

3306.90.00 Preparations for oral or dental hygiene, including denture fixative pastes and powders, excluding dentifrices

3307.10.10 Pre-shave, shaving or after-shave preparations, not containing alcohol 3307.10.20 Pre-shave, shaving or after-shave preparations, containing alcohol

3307.20.00 Personal deodorants and antiperspirants

3307.30.10 Bath salts, whether or not perfumed

3307.30.50 Bath preparations, other than bath salts

3402.90.10 Synthetic detergents put up for retail sale

3405.10.00 Polishes, creams and similar preparations for footwear or leather

3405.20.00 Polishes, creams and similar preparations for the maintenance of wooden furniture, floors or other woodwork

3405.30.00 Polishes and similar preparations for coachwork, other than metal polishes

3405.40.00 Scouring pastes and powders and other scouring preparations

3405.90.00 Polishes, creams and similar preparations for glass or metal

3706.10.30 Sound recordings on motion-picture film of a width of 35 mm or more, suitable for use with motion-picture exhibits

3706.10.60 Motion-picture film of a width of 35 mm or more, exposed and developed, whether or not incorporating sound track, nesoi

3706.90.00 Motion-picture film, exposed and developed, less than 35 mm wide

3808.91.25 Insecticides containing any aromatic or modified aromatic insecticide, nesoi

3808.91.30 Insecticides, nesoi, containing an inorganic substance, put up for retail sale

3808.91.50 Insecticides, nesoi, for retail sale or as preparations or articles

3808.94.10 Disinfectants, containing any aromatic or modified aromatic disinfectant

3808.94.50 Disinfectants not subject to subheading note 1 of chapter 38, nesoi

3917.10.10 Artificial guts (sausage casings) of cellulosic plastics materials

3917.10.60 Artificial guts (sausage casings) of collagen

3917.10.90 Artificial guts (sausage casings) of hardened protein, nesoi

3922.90.00 Bidets, lavatory pans, flushing cisterns and similar sanitary ware nesoi, of plastics

3926.20.10 Gloves, seamless, of plastics

3926.20.20 Baseball and softball gloves and mitts, of plastics

3926.20.30 Gloves specially designed for use in sports, nesoi, of plastics

3926.20.40 Gloves, nesoi, of plastics

3926.20.60 Plastic rainwear, incl jackets, coats, ponchos, parkas & slickers, w/ outer shell PVC and w/wo attached hoods, val not over $10 per unit

3926.20.90 Articles of apparel & clothing accessories, of plastic, nesoi

3926.90.30 Parts for yachts or pleasure boats of heading 8903 and watercraft not used with motors or sails, of plastics

4011.10.10 New pneumatic radial tires, of rubber, of a kind used on motor cars (including station wagons and racing cars)

4011.10.50 New pneumatic tires excluding radials, of rubber, of a kind used on motor cars (including station wagons and racing cars)

4011.20.10 New pneumatic radial tires, of rubber, of a kind used on buses or trucks

4015.19.05 Medical gloves of vulcanized rubber other than hard rubber

4015.19.10 Seamless gloves of vulcanized rubber other than hard rubber, other than surgical or medical gloves

4104.11.10 Tanned whole bovine skin and hide upper/lining leather, w/o hair on, unit surface area n/o 2.6 sq m, in the wet state

4104.11.20 Tanned whole bovine skin and hide leather (not upper/lining), w/o hair on, unit surface area n/o 2.6 sq m, in the wet state

4104.11.30 Full grain unsplit or grain split buffalo hide or skin, w/o hair on, tanned but not further prepared, surface ov 2.6 m2, in the wet state

4104.11.40 Full grain unsplit/grain split bovine nesoi and equine upper & sole hides/skins, w/o hair, tanned but not further prepared, in the wet state

4104.11.50 Full grain unsplit/grain split bovine (except buffalo) nesoi and equine hides/skins, w/o hair, tanned not further prepared, in the wet state

4104.19.10 Whole bovine skin upper or lining leather, w/o hair on, unit surface n/o 2.6 sq m, tanned but not further prepared, in the wet state

4104.19.20 Whole bovine skin leather (not upper or lining), w/o hair on, surface n/o 2.6 sq m, tanned but not further prepared, in the wet state

4105.10.10 Sheep or lamb skins, without wool on, tanned but not further prepared, wet blue 4105.10.90 Sheep or lamb skins, without wool on, tanned but not further prepared, in the wet state other than wet blue

4105.30.00 Sheep or lamb skins, without wool on, tanned but not further prepared, in the dry state (crust)

4106.21.10 Hides and skins of goats or kids, without hair on, tanned but not further prepared, wet blue

4106.21.90 Hides and skins of goats or kids, without hair on, tanned but not further prepared, in the wet state other than wet blue

4106.22.00 Hides and skins of goats or kids, without hair on, tanned but not further prepared, in the dry state (crust)

4106.31.10 Hides and skins of swine, without hair on, tanned but not further prepared, wet blue 4106.31.90 Hides and skins of swine, without hair on, tanned but not further prepared, in the wet state other than wet blue

4113.10.30 Goat or kidskin leather, without hair on, not fancy, further prepared after tanning or crusting, other than of heading 4114

4113.10.60 Goat or kidskin leather, without hair on, fancy, further prepared after tanning or crusting, other than of heading 4114

4113.20.00 Leather of swine, without hair on, further prepared after tanning or crusting, other than leather of heading 4114

4113.30.30 Reptile leather, not fancy, further prepared after tanning or crusting, other than leather of heading 4114

4113.30.60 Reptile leather, fancy, further prepared after tanning or crusting, other than leather of heading 4114

4201.00.30 Dog leashes, collars, muzzles, harnesses and similar dog equipment, of any material 4201.00.60 Saddlery and harnesses for animals nesoi, (incl. traces, leads, knee pads, muzzles, saddle cloths and bags and the like), of any material

4202.11.00 Trunks, suitcases, vanity & all other cases, occupational luggage & like containers, surface of leather, composition or patent leather

4202.21.30 Handbags, with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of reptile leather

4202.21.60 Handbags, with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of leather, composition or patent leather, nesoi, n/o $20 ea.

4202.21.90 Handbags, with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of leather, composition or patent leather, nesoi, over $20 ea.

4202.22.15 Handbags, with or without shoulder straps or without handle, with outer surface of sheeting of plastics

4202.22.35 Handbags with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of textile materials, wholly or in part of braid, of abaca

4202.22.40 Handbags with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of textile materials, wholly or in part of braid, nesoi

4202.22.45 Handbags with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of cotton, not of pile or tufted construction or braid

4202.22.60 Handbags with or w/o shoulder strap or w/o handle, outer surface of veg. fibers, exc. cotton, not of pile or tufted construction or braid

4202.22.70 Handbags with or w/o shoulder strap or w/o handle, with outer surface containing 85% or more of silk, not braided

4202.22.81 Handbags with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of MMF materials

4202.22.89 Handbags with or without shoulder strap or without handle, with outer surface of textile materials nesoi

4202.29.10 Handbags w. or w/o shld. strap or w/o handle of mat. (o/t leather, shtng. of plas., tex. mat., vul. fib. or paperbd.), paper cov., of plas.

4202.29.20 Handbags w. or w/o shld. strap or w/o handle of mat. (o/t leather, shtng. of plas., tex. mat., vul. fib. or paperbd.), paper cov., of wood 98 HTSUS Subheading Product Description 4202.29.50 Handbags w. or w/o shld. strap or w/o handle of mat. (o/t leather, shtng. of plas., tex. mat., vul. fib. or paperbd.), pap.cov.,of mat. nesoi

4202.29.90 Handbags with or without shoulder straps or without handle, with outer surface of vulcanized fiber or of paperboard, not covered with paper

4202.31.30 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of reptile leather

4202.31.60 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of leather, composition or patent leather, nesoi

4202.32.10 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of reinforced or laminated plastics

4202.32.20 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of plastic sheeting, nesoi

4202.32.40 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of cotton, not of pile or tufted construction

4202.32.80 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag,with outer surface of vegetable fibers,not of pile or tufted construction, nesoi

4202.32.85 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface 85% or more silk or silk waste

4202.32.91 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of cotton 4202.32.93 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of MMF 4202.32.99 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of other textile materials 4202.39.10 Articles of kind usually carried in pocket or handbag (o/t leather, shtng. of plas., tex. mat., vul. fib. or paperbd.), pap. cov., of plas. 4202.39.20 Articles of kind usually carried in pocket or handbag (o/t leather, shtng. of plas., tex. mat., vul. fib. or paperbd.), pap. cov., of wood 4202.39.50 Articles of kind usu. carried in pocket or handbag (o/t lea., shtng. of plas., tex. mat., vul. fib. or paperbd.), pap. cov., of mat. nesoi

4202.39.90 Articles of a kind normally carried in the pocket or handbag, with outer surface of vulcanized fiber or of paperboard

4202.91.10 Golf bags, with outer surface of leather or composition leather

4203.10.20 Articles of apparel, of reptile leather

4203.10.40 Articles of apparel, of leather or of composition leather, nesoi

4203.21.20 Batting gloves, of leather or of composition leather

4203.21.40 Baseball and softball gloves and mitts, excluding batting gloves, of leather or of composition leather

4203.21.55 Cross-country ski gloves, mittens and mitts, of leather or of composition leather 4203.21.60 Ski or snowmobile gloves, mittens and mitts, nesoi, of leather or of composition leather 4203.21.70 Ice hockey gloves, of leather or of composition leather

4302.19.13 Tanned/dressed whole skins of Astrakhan, Broadtail, Caracul, Persian, Indian, Mongolian, Chinese & Tibetan lamb, not assembled

4302.19.15 Tanned or dressed whole furskins of silver, black or platinum fox (including mutations), with or without head, tail or paws, not assembled

4302.19.30 Tanned or dressed whole furskins of beaver, chinchilla, ermine, lynx, raccoon, sable, other specified animals, not dyed, not assembled

4302.19.45 Tanned or dressed whole furskins of beaver, chinchilla, ermine, lynx, raccoon, sable, wolf, other specified animals, dyed, not assembled

4302.19.55 Tanned or dressed whole furskins of rabbit or hare, with or without head, tail or paws, not assembled


And that’s only halfway through this compulsive list of the stuff the made world is made of.


Posted in Tibet | Leave a comment



As Tibet urbanises, electricity demand now greatly outstrips supply, especially in the winter and spring seasons of low water flow and little hydropower generation, when electricity is most needed.

In rural Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) there are still many counties without grid electricity, relying on small and unreliable local hydro power, or individual households using batteries, solar power or dried yak dung for heat.

Outside Tibet, people often assume China rapaciously exploits and dams all rivers, yet electricity supply has fallen so far behind that TAR is now dependent on two ultra-high voltage direct current (UHVDC) long distance power grid lines to transmit electricity from both Qinghai and Sichuan all the way to Lhasa, but now these two have proven inadequate.[1]

The recent announcement that China would supply electricity to remote highland districts of Nepal, via Tibet, has only exacerbated the chronic shortages.

In a major 14 June 2018 policy announcement, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)has instructed TAR to establish a market-based electricity supply, with sufficient incentives for corporations to invest in hydropower. There is almost no mention of photovoltaic solar power, or of wind power, though Tibet is well capable of providing both, being both sunny and windy, especially in winter.

We will soon see many new hydropower schemes, coordinated by NDRC central planners into three grids, one centred on Lhasa, one on Chamdo in eastern TAR, and one in the far west, centred on Ngari. Construction of these grids will be financed by the state, a major subsidy for corporate electricity generators. These three could eventually become one, interconnected by China’s tech speciality, ultra-high voltage direct current (UHVDC) power grids, which in turn could connect TAR to the rest of China, for exporting electricity down to lowland China, as has long been the plan in eastern Tibet. However, at high altitude, there are many dangers to safety of UHVDC.[2]

The NDRC official instruction acknowledges the dilemmas facing official China. While wanting electricity generation and supply to function as orderly competitive markets, the only available source of the considerable investment required is the party-state. Further, electricity generation and supply are natural monopolies, so what does it mean to require a market economy for electricity?

However, the problem has become urgent, NDRC says, and the way TAR authorities have managed it is intolerable. Electricity supply has been allocated to those with the best official status or connections, which means many miss out, holding back development and China’s ambition to provide electricity to remote areas, and alleviate poverty. The assumption is that power grids are needed if this goal is to be achieved, although decentralised solar power can be highly mobile, moving seasonally with a pastoral family on the move. Of the 74 counties comprising TAR, 12 have no access to grid electricity at all, NDRC says.

The tension between state dominance of the TAR economy, and the desire for a market economy in electricity is not officially labelled a “contradiction”, although the Marxist concept of dialectical contradiction usually defines policy debate in China. What is officially a contradiction in TAR is the relation between water and electricity. In other words, too much water flows, without being harnessed to extract electricity. This is the contradiction that must be resolved. NDRC says: “First, the problem of continuous and stable power supply has not been fully solved. The backbone of the autonomous region has insufficient power supply. The contradiction between the abundance of water and electricity is more prominent, the power transmission capacity of the Qinghai-Tibet DC is limited.”

China has in recent years prioritised water supply from Tibet, to China’s lowlands, as Tibet’s primary contribution to the Chinese economy and environment. Provision of water takes priority over pastoral production, farming, heavy industrialisation and other uses of water within Tibet. Widespread clear-cut logging of Tibetan forests was officially halted 20 years ago on the grounds that bare mountain slopes in Tibet caused flooding along the mid-Yangtze. China is willing to empty the land of Tibet or nomads, if that seems to enhance water provision, but that water must also generate electricity, according to the latest intervention from Beijing, which clearly comes with finance for grid construction, and regulatory power to fix prices sufficient to guarantee corporate investment in building hydropower is profitable.

Decades ago, when the holy Yamdrok Tso was dammed for hydropower, there was widespread anguish among Tibetans and their supporters worldwide that such a sacred lake, central to discerning portents and intimations of the rebirth of high lamas, could be so desecrated. Yamdrok Tso is what engineers call a pumped hydro dam, which feeds electricity into the grid for immediate consumption only at times of peak demand. The rest of the time, outside of peak hours, the water is pumped (from the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra)  back uphill, effectively storing further hydropower potential till the moment it is needed by consumers. Effectively, the uphill lake becomes not just a storage pond for peak power, but a giant battery. How will Tibetans feel if lakes –traditionally the abode of goddesses- become batteries?

While dam building in TAR has slowed, except for the cascade of dams under construction on the Yarlung Tsangpo at Zangmu, below Lhoka Tsetang, the dam designers have been busy. They have carefully surveyed all of TAR for locations where, like Yamdrok tso, there is an upland lake and a river below that can be paired in a daily 24 hour pumped hydro cycle, or a pair of lakes, one well above the other, for pumped hydro. The engineers have found several such locations, especially in Nyingtri county, where the pace of urbanisation is fast, as Nyingtri/Bayi becomes a luxury resort area for wealth Chinese escaping the heat and humidity of Chengdu. The engineers remind us that their neatly paired lakes are almost always a considerable distance from existing grids, so much grid construction, in remote areas, will be needed.


Tibet’s abundant sunshine would be ideal for decentralised solar power, but Chinese engineers use Tibet’s solar photovoltaic (PV) potential as a further argument for greater investment in centralised grid construction, connecting the solar arrays to the grid to then be fed, in the off-peak demand hours, to the lakes to pump water back up hill. Yet again, Tibet is where grand visions can be inscribed onto the land, in ways inconceivable in overcrowded, polluted lowland urban China. Electricity delivered through a central grid demonstrates the benevolence of the centralised state; electricity generated by a panel on the grass outside a nomad tent is not the gift of the party-state.




At Zangmu only the first of the planned six hydro dams athwart the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra has been completed, and in production early in 2016.  Built by Gezhouba, financed by the heavily indebted Huaneng, the cascade of planned dam construction has slowed, partly because of dimming prospects for long distance transmission, in the absence of an adequate grid and dwindling downstream markets. Another reason is that all of China’s major infrastructure construction projects in Tibet –railways, highways, urban construction, dams and grids- tend to squeeze construction into the summer months, as the immigrant Han Chinese workforce finds Tibet in winter far too cold to work. Gezhouba engineers even suggested intensive use of the winter sun at Zangmu, captured by solar panels, to enable construction through the winter, but little came of this suggestion, in the deep valleys where winter sun, though plentiful, seldom reaches the valley floor construction site.[3]

The directive from the NDRC is quite lengthy, yet quite lacking in specifics, other than exhorting TAR authorities to do a good job in getting more hydropower built, in conformity with national policies, including the requirement to turn farmland into forest and grazing pastures into grassy wilderness.

It is clearly up to planners in Lhasa to decide on an actual plan. So why is it necessary for NDRC to issue this public policy guidance? It is only because TAR has fallen so far behind, its regional government is so weak, passive and dependent on big brother in Beijing, and must now be instructed to make up the shortfall.

The reason this document requires eight pages is because of the complexity of ensuring Beijing’s subsidies, as they pass through the TAR government to the corporate hydro dam builders, to deliver reliable profit to the owner-operators of the new infrastructure. To ensure that, there are many things to consider. NDRC instructs TAR to allow hydro developers, for example, to be able to sell electricity beyond TAR during the summer monsoon peak electricity generating season. That will require TAR to ensure its three power grids are connected to the national power grid, by expensive ultra-high voltage direct current (UHVDC) lines capable of transmitting electricity over vast distances without loss.


Effectively, this is an instruction to TAR to get on with making construction contracts with the state-owned dam building companies, and raise electricity prices in order to attract them, rather than persist with low prices for existing industrial consumers, piling up debt and letting the supply lag behind demand. This NDRC directive is basically a public assurance that Beijing will foot the bill for this massive upgrade.

Who is the audience for this announcement? Clearly not the Tibetans, who are mentioned only in generalities, defined by what they lack, one million in TAR with no access to grid power. No mention of displacement and resettlement by hydro dams and power grids, that’s all for local TAR government to work out.

The real audience is the dam builders, who need assurances they can make money. The huge corporations who, in China, have built thousands of dams and now do so on a global scale, and the behemoth State Grid monopoly of the network, have long been dominant, not only in remote areas but in the eyes of Beijing central planners. These corporations until very recently lived in a simple world of ever-accelerating growth, with electricity demand, with the world’s factory located in eastern China, ever expanding. As state-owned corporations, they were guaranteed priority access to loans from state banks at concessional rates, and a free hand to  roam the remotest valleys to locate the best spots for damming, irrespective of local community concerns. In the first decade of this century, most of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee were engineers.

Then, in this decade, it all changed, old certainties dissolved, a new era with very different priorities was declared. The future of hydro dams, in Tibet and around China, became questionable. That’s explored further in the second of these three blogs.


[1] T.P.G. of Qinghai Province, The brief introduction of qinghai-tibet grid interconnection project (2011-11-30). http://news.xinhuanet.com/energy/2011-11/30/c_122356686.htm

T.P.G. of Qinghai Province, Qinghai-tibet grid interconnection project makes tibet’s electric power delivery become the norm (2015-10-31). http://www.qh.gov.cn/zwgk/system/2015/10/31/010185905.shtml

T.C.G. of China, Sichuan-tibet grid interconnection will be completed to connect tibet’s isolate grid (2014-08-04).  http://www.gov.cn/xinwen/2014-08/04/ content_2729497.htm

[2] HUANG Dao-chun,WEI Yuan-hang,ZHONG Lian-hong,RUAN Jiang-jun,HUANGFU Cheng, Discussion on Several Problems of Developing UHVDC Transmission in China, Power System Technology 电 网 技 术 Vol. 31 No. 8 2007

[3] ZHANG Jianhua, Utilization of Solar Heating for Winter Construction in Tibet Zangmu Hydropower Station, 水 电 与 新 能 源, HYDROPOWER AND NEW ENERGY, 2012 Number 2, 74


Posted in Tibet | 1 Comment



China pioneered technologies for transmitting electricity at ultra-high voltages vast distances, using direct current, making it possible to dream big and plan big, to envisage criss-crossing the whole of China, connecting the remote Tibetan highlands, rich in hydropower potential with distant factory cities of coastal China. State Grid Corporation put out maps of China traversed both west to east and north to south by power grids, making the whole of China one gigantic grid.

Then it all got more complex. As China moved into the middle income bracket, and wages rose, the more labour-intensive and energy-intensive industries started shifting to lower cost countries around Asia. The central planners talked more about the need to construct “ecological civilisation” and a “circular economy” that recycles. China’s sole promised commitment to realising the Paris climate change treaty goals is to reduce energy intensity. Solar, wind and nuclear power emerged as major sources of energy, even though the grid monopolists often refused to connect solar arrays to the grid.

So now it is the giants of dam and grid building who need assurance, at the highest level, that any fresh round of construction across TAR will be well-financed, including a margin for profit. TAR remains the one province where Beijing’s diktat is not undercut by local resistance, and the TAR government has been told to get on with it. The China Dialogue website has analysed how the engineering dream derailed: China’s enthusiasm for UHV is waning. The technology is beset by conflicts of interest between grid companies and central and local governments. The lines themselves are underperforming, and more recent projects are coming online amid a period of electricity generation overcapacity. This means that approvals for new lines have slowed, and grid companies are unlikely to meet their targets for new ones. But rollouts have slowed, and few analysts expect State Grid will deliver on its 2020 target. In fact, its national UHV backbone scheme, which is the centrepiece of its UHVAC ambitions, looks unlikely to happen anytime soon. State Grid’s UHV plans suggested remarkable ambition, but did not always align with those of central and provincial policymakers. Central officials have clashed with State Grid planners on its backbone scheme, which envisions a lattice of six UHVAC lines to synchronise grids that are currently in State Grid’s territory. But officials worry about nationwide blackouts cascading across these interconnected grids. Meanwhile, the economic case for new UHVDC lines from the interior has weakened amidst slowing growth in electricity demand. Unsurprisingly, then, approvals for new UHV projects – which take 3-4 years to construct – have been slow, with just one project approved in 2016, and two in 2017. Certain regional governments targeted for UHV projects have also been sceptical. Provinces get larger boosts to gross domestic product (GDP), employment, and revenue from building their own power plants rather than importing power from other provinces. Even new lines with central government backing have sometimes failed to get provincial acceptance. For example, the UHVDC Sichuan Number Four line would take Sichuan hydropower to Jiangxi province, and was singled out for construction in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). But as NEA officials noted last autumn, Jiangxi does not want this power.”

The great exception is Tibet, which still has a command and control economy, where the central party-state can still simply allocate resources. This is the actual circular economy in operation, not an economy of reduce, reuse and recycle, but a circle of state-directed capital expenditure, from NDRC to TAR to the dam and grid builders; from the state at national level to provincial level to the corporate state.


Where will the new dams be located? Outside of TAR, in the rugged terrain of Kham, eastern Tibet, dam building, on a massive scale continues, with dams –highest in the world- above 300m of concrete across steep mountain river gorges in highly earthquake prone districts.


Within TAR, as solar power starts to become more common, where are the paired lakes designated as batteries to store solar power? Chinese engineers have this surveyed and mapped. Conveniently, this can be done from a desk in Beijing, with no need to actually visit Tibet. Satellite cameras in orbit above the earth are good at measuring the distance to the ground, so it is not hard to locate those paired lakes, one higher than the other, close enough to constitute a system for pumping up and rushing down, according to grid demand.

However, there just aren’t enough lake pairs sufficiently close to each other with sufficient height difference, so the scientists played round with identifying terrain around existing lakes where engineers could build a reservoir above the lake to pump lake water up; or below the existing lake, forming a dyad forever cycling together.

Then they mapped the various possibilities, also noting the distance of these water battery systems to the nearest grid, and the inevitability that the state would need to step in and finance the heavy infrastructure required, both the extra reservoirs and the grid connections. Another florid tech fantasy is born: Tibet is a fertile landscape onto which to project grandiose tech visions.

If only a small proportion of the hundreds of sites labelled suitable for pumped storage hydro dams all over Tibet are ever built, and connected by power grids to each other and to lowland China, how many Tibetans will be displaced? How many teams of Han Chinese immigrants will be sent to remote valleys to construct this renewed vision of engineering Tibet?  The National Development & Reform Commission, in March 2018, issued detailed instructions on how those displaced by hydro dams are to be emigrated, compensated and treated with respect. Is this about to happen in



The Tibetan Plateau has fascinated and fixated China’s hydropower planners for decades, as the resource China most needs to extract, and then export, not only to lowland China to the east but also to the south, to Nepal or beyond, all by UHVDC ultra-high voltage direct current power grids. As recently as 2009 Chinese engineers enthused: “According to the results of the national hydropower review, the theory of hydropower resources reserves in Tibet account for 29% of the country, ranking first in the country, with annual power generation developable of 576 billion kWh, second only to Sichuan Province, ranking second in the country. Tibet will become the main battlefield of China’s hydropower construction after 2020, first of all from Sichuan and Yunnan, utilising The Jinsha River, Minjiang River and Nujiang River to transfer electricity from the eastern part of Tibet.”[1]

Those dreams of overpowering Tibet remain, especially on the fast mountain rivers of Kham, in Sichuan, but dam building has been slow, and in TAR has halted, except for the Zangmu dam. Now, it seems, due to a directive from the highest level, backed by ample finance capable of overcoming the deep corporate indebtedness of some of China’s biggest energy companies,[2] central Tibet may soon see a new burst of hydro damming.

The ultra-high voltage power lines China has built in recent years, transmitting electricity from Qinghai into TAR, and from Sichuan into TAR, could flow the other way, exporting electricity from TAR. After a lull, the engineering fixation on extraction from Tibet has burst into life again.


State Grid, by any measure worldwide a massive corporation, announced in 2017 it was upgrading the existing grids in TAR, which seldom had capacity to transmit more than 110kV, to be increased to 500kV, while interconnecting the separate grid networks of eastern and southern TAR.

In announcing this upgrade, State Grid emphasized how important it was to safeguard the new rail line from Lhasa to the luxury resort district of Nyingtri, so close to India’s Arunachal Pradesh. The single track line needs electricity to fulfil its promise of reducing an eight hour bus ride to three hours on a train that stops at only a few of the 17 stations, moving at 160 kms/hr through tunnels as much as 17kms long and bridging the Yarlung Tsangpo just above the Zangmu hydro dam. With so many bridges and tunnels, and fast speed, reliable signalling is essential for safety, requiring failsafe electricity supply, as State Grid points out.


The intensification of central Tibet is regaining momentum lost in recent years as TAR fell back to its command and control default position. State Grid has not forgotten its vision for Tibet, as its boss Liu Zhenya put it in 2012: “Hydropower will be developed in Tibet and transmitted to other regions on a large scale. Power generated in the large hydropower bases will be transmitted from Sichuan to central and eastern China, and from Yunnan to Guangdong. The volume of hydropower from the southwest region will reach 54.5 GW (gigawatts), 76 GW and 120 GW by 2015, 2020 and 2030 respectively.”[3]

State Grid has been adept at keeping pace with official China’s changing priorities. Whatever problems China has, State Grid is always the solution. When the top priority in TAR was industrialisation and mineral extraction, State grid built the first power networks. Now the agenda is beefed up securitisation of the borders with India, and a tourism consumer economy, especially in the Nyingtri county, requiring the interconnection of local grids and sharply upgrading the voltage. Above all, State Grid has never lost sight of the prospect of Tibet at last paying its way for China by exporting electricity, using electricity from afar 电从远方来 the catchy State Grid slogan.

The TAR government, if it ever doubted if it really needs such a massive grid upgrade, is in no position to argue with State Grid, whose 2016 revenue of 2093 billion yuan was 13 times bigger than the total RMB 158 billion revenue of the TAR.

TAR pioneered grid management, the securitisation of Lhasa, divided by gridlines into small units of intensive hi-tech surveillance, monitored by cameras and informers to ensure behavioural compliance with CCP policy in all public, and many private spaces. Grid management is the strategy enabling the party-state to implement its “social credit” system of punishing those deemed untrustworthy by the all-seeing security state, and rewarding the compliant.

Until now grid management and State Grid seemed to have little in common. But if State Grid, funded by the National Development & Reform Commission to build high voltage power grids all over Tibet, incentivises the hydro dam builders and pumped storage battery builders, then Tibet becomes an electrified post-industrial security state like never before.


[1] ZHOU Dashan, Tentative output plans of hydropower resources in Tibet District, Hubei Water Power 湖 北 水 力 发 电 2009 #3

[2] Huaneng Power International, MarketLine SWOT Analysis, 2017

[3] Liu, Zhenya. Zhongguo dianli yu nengyuan  China Electric Power Press, 2012 in Chinese; Translated as: Electric Power and Energy in China, John Wiley, 2013, 165

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In the first years of this century electricity demand in China grew annually by as much as 15 per cent. A world record. No matter how many coal-fired, nuclear and later, gas-fired power stations were built, it was never enough. The power plant builders were in demand, and hydropower was also scheduled for major expansion, to not only keep pace with coal but actually increase its share of total supply.

Those were boom years for China’s dam builders and power grid builders, when Tibet was thoroughly mapped for its hydro potential. Tibet’s day would come.

But the boom years are over, as China now prides itself on reducing energy intensity, the amount of energy consumed per unit of economic output, which was far above the average in other manufacturing countries. Now the dam and grid builders are hungry for new markets: where better than Tibet?


Which of these potential hydro dams will actually be built? Which corporate builders will be attracted to TAR by the NDRC’s new incentives?

If NDRC’s June 2018 directive to the TAR government  does translate into action, on the ground, in TAR, with engineers and construction crews swarming to remote valleys and lakes to build hydro dams, we can readily predict who the builders will be, because this is a contract construction market restricted to a few players, all of them big state-owned corporations, used to operating worldwide.

We know their preferred mode of operation, which is no longer to build the dam, collect their contracted payment and leave. These days they prefer the BOT model, meaning build, operate and eventually transfer the ownership of the dam back to the TAR government, but only after operating the dam and collecting payments for the electricity generated, for the first two or three decades of the hydro dam’s life. Not only is that a way to increase profits in the long run, it also enables the ultimate owner of the land and the dam –the party-state- to get the dam built without having to pay upfront for all the construction costs. The BOT model means more dams get built, not delayed by governments restricted by having insufficient capital to invest, in a time when speculative investment in urban real estate is more quickly profitable for local governments.

The BOT model allows the builder to also operate the hydro dam for decades, the first decades being the most profitable, often with a price for electricity locked into the contract, at a time when the dam is at its most productive, before it later fills with silt, cracks or suffers an earthquake which may well be induced by the sheer weight of impounded water onto the faults below.

Not only are the dam builders and power grid builders some of China’s biggest corporations, but among the biggest worldwide. This makes them easy to track. Any business news website –Reuters Business, Bloomberg or CNBC for example- will quickly tell you where in the world these giant corporations are sealing their next big deal, which may well be in a country where Tibetan voices are heard.

Hydro is a global industry, with industry newsletters that tell you about the latest deals. Many of these corporations have floated shares on a Chinese stock exchange, which requires them to regularly report their plans and results, especially anything risky that might affect their stock price, and that includes investing in Tibet.

These corporations are diligently tracked by the NGO International Rivers. Here is a sketch of those big players:

PowerChina Resources and Sinohydro have merged and are now wholly owned by Power Construction Corporation of China中国电建. Sinohydro is mainly a project contractor, undertaking construction contracts, while PowerChina Resources focuses on constuction and operation, undertaking BOT contracts in other countries. During the ten-year period reviewed, Sinohydro comes out as the Chinese company that has built the most hydropower capacity (48,828 MW) and largest number of hydropower projects (118 projects). For 28 of these projects, Sinohydro collaborated with Chinese BOT developers. PowerChina Resources is involved in BOT projects. It completed Kamchay (193 MW) in Cambodia, and now is building the Nam Ou Cascade (1,156 MW) in Laos and Busanga project (240 MW) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Projects in the pipeline for PowerChina Resources include Lower Sesan 3 in Cambodia, Pak Lay in Laos, and Lasolo in Indonesia. Track Power Construction Corp here.

  1. China Gezhouba Group Corporation葛洲坝 is a member of China Energy Engineering Group Co., Ltd. Gezhouba was founded in 2006 and is a major hydropower project contractor in China. Gezhouba is second to Sinohydro in terms of its overseas hydropower development.  It has a total hydropower capacity of 30,409 MW and 42 completed projects. Gezhouba has experienced a drop in overseas projects between 2012-2015, but has gained growth again in the last two years, thanks to projects repackaged under the Belt and Road Initiative. Gezhouba built the Zangmu dam across the Yarlung Tsangpo. You can track its notifications to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.






















  1. China Three Gorges Corporation(CTG)  三峡水利 is the third largest hydropower entity. It specializes in large-scale hydropower development and operation and mainly targets large-scale BOT projects in the overseas market. China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of CTG and undertakes both BOT and EPC hydropower projects. CTG has signed 12 BOT projects and 1 EPC project under the brand of CTG with a total capacity of 27,066 MW. The BOT projects CTG have signed are all mega projects, and located in Pakistan, Burma, Nepal and Russia. To date, only the Karot project (720 MW) in Pakistan has begun construction. Track its corporate reporting here.
  2. China Power Investment Corporation(CPI) was a state-owned electricity producer and is now known as the developer of the (suspended) Myitsone mega Dam (6,000MW). In 2015, CPI merged with the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation to become State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) which is one of the five biggest power generation enterprises in China. All the projects CPI has signed have been BOT, located in Burma and to date have not had any progress.
  3. China Guodian Corporation(Guodian) is also one of the five biggest power generation enterprises in China. Guodian operates power generation plants- mainly thermal power, hydropower and wind power. Earlier in 2017, Guodian merged with Shenhua Group Corp., China’s top coal miner. This new entity has assets of USD $271 billion, and will be the world’s second-biggest company by revenue and largest by installed capacity and the new entity will be moving towards increasing renewable energy solutions rather than coal. Guodian has signed three BOT projects, Nam Tabak and Mawlaik in Burma, and Sambor in Cambodia (recent news indicates that Guodian may have withdrawn from Sambor and that Huaneng has taken over). 
  4. China Datang Corporation(Datang) 大唐发电 was founded in 2002 and is also one of the five biggest power generation enterprises in China. Datang’s projects are BOT and are mainly located in Burma, Cambodia and Laos. The completed projects are Dapein 1 in Burma, and Stung Atay in Cambodia. The Pak Beng and Sanakham in Laos are under consideration. Track Datang here.
  5. Lastly, China National Electric Engineering CO., Ltd(CNEEC) is a state-owned professional international engineering company. Its overseas focus has been EPC contracts and other construction contracts. CNEEC has been involved in the construction of 12 hydropower projects. CNEEC undertakes relatively small projects (<100MW), but its geographical footprint covers most regions of the globe.”

Now that all these corporate giants operate globally, and increasingly get to not only build the dams but then operate the hydropower turbines for a subsequent two or three decades, generating enormous cash flow, would any of them feel tempted by much smaller hydro projects in frigid Tibet?


Everything points to the one sure winner, guaranteed in advance by the central party-state: the State Grid Corporation. NDRC has long championed State Grid, and been criticised for being too close to the corporate colossus. Those critiques, even under Xi Jinping’s centralisation of power, have sometimes been highly public, such as a televised debate in 2014 on State Grid’s advocacy for its ultra-high voltage grid technology. “What is striking about the debate was not only the uncompromising positions by both supporters and opponents but also their equally critical view of the government, especially of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a powerful macroeconomic planner in China. The opponents to the projects criticized NDRC for approving them in the first place and for supporting the construction of a synchronized UHV alternating current (AC) and UHV direct current (DC) system connecting three regions at the expense of system reliability.”[1]

Fortunately, we have a detailed insider analysis of State Grid Corporation 电从远方来, based on 15 years of fieldwork.[2] State Grid has been adept at positioning itself for China’s post-industrial transition away from coal, towards oil, gas, hydro and now solar as alternative sources of energy, as long as there is a massive, interconnected grid to juggle them all. State Grid’s slogan has been “replacing coal with electricity, replacing oil with electricity, and using electricity from afar” (以电代煤,以电代油,电从远方来). If State Grid can now electrify Tibet, and be paid handsomely to do so, it may yet get to fulfil a long-held dream of supplying electricity from Tibet to lowland China, at least in the summer.

State Grid is a powerful player, yet its vision of ultra-high grids is facing new challenges. New markets, with guaranteed returns on capital, are needed. “Central SOEs can be active actors shaping these directives. They do not have an automatic right to participate in the policy-making process, nor are their interests represented automatically by government agencies, whose interests are always in conflict among themselves anyway. To get what they want, the key SOEs, as do other players, have to be proactive, proposing new ideas and initiatives, participating in policy debates, and selling their preferred policy proposals to their industry counterparts and policy makers. This is in part because the central SOEs are by and large accountable for their own performance and must operate as corporations first and foremost. To influence and shape policy making is part of the game. Consequently, economic policy making in China is no longer the result of competition among functional bureaucracies and territorial administrations, as the initial model of fragmented authoritarianism suggests. Instead, central SOEs must be treated as independent players in a pluralized decision-making process.”[3]










[1] Xu Yi-chong,  China’s Giant State-Owned Enterprises as Policy Advocates: The Case of the State Grid Corporation of China, China Journal 79, 2017, 21-39

[2] Xu Yi-chong, Sinews of Power: Politics of the State Grid Corporation of China, Oxford, 2017

[3] China’s Giant State-Owned Enterprises as Policy Advocates, 23

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I owe you an explanation.

A year ago, I posted a blog announcing I was going to die soon.

A year later the blogs still roll out, and so do I.

The tumours are still there, though shrunk, in the lungs and elsewhere, and they will probably consume me. But no-one knows when. A year ago, the doctors told me: no more operations, no more radiation or chemo, all treatment options are exhausted, nothing more to be done. You have months.

The sudden bout of coughing blood, which triggered the CT-scan that resulted in that final diagnosis was a shock, not a surprise. All along, through the several operations, bouts of radiation and chemo, I had been told there is a high likelihood of recurrence. Even when the surgeons, after a 12-hour operation, triumphantly announced: “You’re cured”, my immediate reaction was to say: “You can’t say that.” So the spread of the tumours, from skin, to salivary glands, to nerves, to lymph glands and into the lungs was half expected.

In some ways, I was glad to be definitively off the medical treadmill, a clear message that neither I nor the doctors had any further hopes. I signed on to palliative care, and tried to ready myself for the long journey into the next life. That included saying good bye to everyone, including online in that blog.

For three months, I wasted away, all my energy consumed by the voracious tumours. I ate a lot, but the tumours ate it all, leaving me grey, tired, rudderless, but somehow determined to face dying and what happens beyond.

There was a token cycle or two of chemo, as the doctors said: “to give you a little more time.” No more talk of remission, just, at most, slowing the tumours a little. It didn’t work.

What made the difference was immunotherapy, and here I am a year later, not only able to tell the tale, but with energy refound. That’s why the blogs continue.

Technically I am an HNSCC, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patient, one of only a few thousand worldwide to get the new immunotherapy infusion that simply reminds the immune system how to recognise cancer cells and destroy them. It works the way sowa rigpa works, not by attacking, but by strengthening.

Is this luck? Is it the blessings of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas? It’s all that. It’s the biggest advance in cancer treatment in a century, and it became available at just the moment it made all the difference between life and death for one individual, me.

My wanderings through the many layers of cancer world have had such junctures before; this is only the most dramatic. Many times, causes and conditions have combined, producing moments to be seized, decisions to be made, conducive to life. Again and again such moments arise, to be recognised and acted on. I am blessed, surrounded by enlightened mind and its uncountable legacies, and potentials, for me to awaken to if I have my wits about me. I am blessed.

Now, a year on, the miraculous is humdrum, a fortnightly train trip to the city, to have that clear liquid pumped into my veins, no pain, no drama of any sort, just the routine of nurses administering drips, sitting alongside those getting chemo that same way. It might be done, for administrative convenience, in a chemo setting, but what a difference, between calculated poisoning of all fast growing cells, benign and malign alike, compared with this strengthener of the body’s innate capacity to recognise and deal with cells that don’t belong.

Now I look back on the three months when I was definitely dying, before the immunotherapy started. Being able to say my goodbyes, tidying my affairs, turning to face death and what occurs beyond, was a privilege few get. We all know we must die, but it is out of sight, over the horizon, until it suddenly happens.

I got to do a three month rehearsal, now the force of habit has locked back into place, and death again seems far. Only it’s not, those three months did remind me that trying to stay in control is a delusion, that it can’t be fixed, our entire civilizational obsession with calculating and managing risks only multiplies threat perceptions, which proliferate endlessly. I’m changed, and not much changed by those three months approaching death’s door. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche once instructed someone, instead of the usual ngondro process for softening a rigidly habitual mind, to chant, one million times: “It can’t be fixed.”

Living on means living with the 24/7 consequences of radiation damage, a constantly stiffening neck and shoulder, as muscles tighten into a fibrotic clutching of the neck. The removal of salivary and lymph glands, the operation that stripped half my face of all its nerves, leaves me with dribbling mouth, swollen cheek and sagging eyelid, collateral damage of surgical skill that did save my life, for long enough to be still around when immunotherapy arrived. Managing the complications of a dry mouth, dry and irritated eye, plus the many odd side effects of a recharged immune system in combat inside my lungs, is tricky. It’s all too easy to make it a medical treadmill. I see dentists, plastic surgeons, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, physiotherapists, osteopaths, lymphoedema specialists, masseurs, rehabilitation gym coaches regularly, as well as the oncologists, CT imaging folks and the chemo infusion nurses. In the public health system of a rich country nearly all of that is without monetary cost, an extraordinary blessing.

Anyone in my circumstances in India or China could perhaps get such treatment, if they were millionaires. I would have been dead two years by now, if in Tibet. If I was American, no problem, immunotherapy is there, but I would have long mortgaged my house to pay for it, and be exhausted, at every step, arguing with health insurers refusing to pay for treatments of unproven effectiveness.

Managing all of this can so readily become full-time, blotting out the eastern sun of awakening to the bigger picture. It is my default setting to fixate on all those yoga stretches and trigger points and dry eye ointments, routines within routines, making myself a suitable case of micro-management, a miniature of the global obsession with controlling risks.

I remind myself you can’t face death like that, it will come, ready or not, control freak or not. You have to be able to let go, to remain focussed and not distracted by minutiae, awake to rediscovering the nature of mind, not compulsively swallowed up by its momentary contents. The tumours are still there, one year on. Immunotherapy can have dramatic unintended consequences, including auto-immune attacks on healthy organs by an overstimulated immune system. Courtesy of the immunotherapy manufacturer, I wear a wristband alerting hospital emergency departments that if I arrive unconscious on an ambulance trolley, it could be something they don’t recognise, immunotherapy anaphylaxis. My life is on a thread, as it is for us all, only I have the blessing of frequent reminders.

This affects my writing. It motivates me to continue delving into China’s plans for Tibet, seeing in them writ large the delusion of top level design, the central planner’s fixation on controlling everything. Am I projecting? Why can’t I just mind my own business? There’s plenty of unfinished business to attend to, to think through, to turn the mind to. That includes, having publicly said goodbye to my blog audience, to you, the embarrassment of saying, hi, I’m still here.

Having said bye and hi, it could be bye again, any time. All it would take is for those pesky side effects to become too much, I’d be taken off immunotherapy and back to dying again. The tumours would come roaring back, or (maybe) the immune system has now learned not to be outfoxed, and will by itself remember to keep zapping the tumour cells, in no further need of fortnightly reminders. No-one knows, it’s all too new. So many unknowns, as is so for us all.

So I continue to garden, and to write. There’s not much else needs doing, other than the hospital treatment visits. I get on with investigating China’s gold mines in Tibet, poverty alleviation, national parks, rigid zoning rules, reshaping the state, and more, blogging at length, knowing that a few readers, despite my dense prose, need to know the details, forewarned is forearmed.

Back here, on this patch of densely planted hillside, it is winter and at last the rains have come, the frogs remind me every night. Last winter I was withering away, now I do my weight training twice a week at the gym, despite the partially collapsed lung. Winter flowers bloom –cockies’ tongue (templetonia retusa), guichenotia, soon the first of many wattles.

Despite reverting to old habits, things have shifted. That three-month rehearsal for dying has given me more trust in enlightened mind, and in accessing it wherever and whenever, that it is ever present. I am not alone and don’t need to invent everything all over again from first principles, as if I am a random atom. I’m a bit more grounded, attentive to what’s going on, a bit more aware of how I habitually distract myself, trip up and take literally the phantoms conjured by mind.

Is that enough to maintain stable awareness when the consciousness no longer has a body foundational to the exhausting project of being me? No. Confusion in the bardo is more than likely. Am I ready to die? I did descend into the valley, felt the shadows lengthen, but now I am back up on the plateau, back on default settings. I take renewed interest in the plateau nomads. When the time comes to plunge again to the valley, it will again be no surprise, but still a shock.

Talk of death is now everyday talk in our family, practical talk, of wills and what to do with all of those books. I’d like to ask Rukor readers to also consider the future of this niche blog, not because it has any reason to live on, beyond me, but because it serves, I hope, as an early warning system for Tibetans as to what China, at the highest level, has in mind for Tibet. That is useful.

I am struck by the extent to which China, as part of its engineered transition from a resource-guzzling low cost factory for world consumption, is now refashioning itself into a consumer-driven tourism consumption middle to high income country. The transition has been years in the making, and at first just seemed to be the usual CCP sloganeering, but now momentum is growing, and the shift is happening. For Tibet, especially U-Tsang, it means a shift from mining and resource exploitation to a new, post-industrial vision, in which whole landscapes are exploited, marketed as pure, pristine, romantic wilderness, for city Chinese to see for themselves, en masse, and commune with nature/consume nature. That requires emptying the land of its people, who inconveniently get in the way of the emotional gush of witnessing no-man’s land and its iconic wildlife.

This is a new form of exploitation, which requires depopulating rural Tibet, herding the nomads and perhaps even the farmers off the land and into concrete boxes under intensive surveillance. The old economy, of intensive exploitation of resources such as water, gold, copper etc. has not disappeared, and in Amdo and Kham continues to grow, but depopulating the production landscapes of rural Tibet is also accelerating, in the name of biodiversity conservation, protection of water supply, carbon capture by growing more grass, and even poverty alleviation.

Much of this may turn out to be ideology that never becomes ground truth, just the fantasies of top level designers in charge of official ideology. China has always struggled to impose its visions onto Tibet. Yet mass domestic tourism is shaping up as the dominant industry, across Tibet, a new form of urban-based consumption that requires depopulation.

That is what is seldom the focus, among Tibetans free to look into what’s ahead. We all have our default settings, and that includes averting our gaze from China’s long term plans for Tibet. We assume China does not change that much, or that Xi Jinping Thought tells us nothing about what matters, on the ground, in Tibet.

It would also be a big mistake to assume that all of China’s plans for Tibet will be realised. Central planners love the neatness of mapping the entire Tibetan Plateau into Key Ecological Function Zones or as Key Economic Zones. In overcrowded China, they have no such freedom to allocate entire landscapes and ecosystems to accord with their exclusionary categories, but in Tibet, they love to go mapping.  Much of this may turn out to be fantasy. A consumer-driven China may no longer need all the hydropower dams planned for remote Tibetan rivers, because China’s electricity-hungry industries are shifting to Cambodia and Myanmar. But the first step is to know what a highly centralised China has in mind for Tibet. That is what this www.rukor.org blog has tried to do.

That is worth continuing, not only because Tibetans in Tibet need to know those plans, but also because the world has stopped listening to Tibet, and we need new issues, new arguments, to attract new attention. We need to connect with what the world is focused on, issues such as climate change, food security, wildlife conservation, China’s global role as importer of food and minerals, exporter of railways and surveillance technology. When these issues come up, we can insert a Tibetan angle, Tibetan viewpoints, into those ongoing debates. We can make Tibet relevant again to people who see it now as tangential, a side issue in a world struggling with more urgent things.

That means focussing on China’s ambition to dominate global manufacture of electric vehicles and the global production of lithium for car batteries. It means focussing on the new high speed rail lines constructed in Tibet, through the Dola Ri of northern Amdo and connecting Xining with Chengdu via Rebkong and Dzitsa Degu (Jiuzhaigou). Not only does high speed rail access to Tibet speed up tourism arrivals, it turns Tibet into a sales showroom for railway technology customers around the world. The same is true of surveillance technology. Come to Lhasa and see hi-tech grid management in action.

I have no way of knowing how much longer I will live, as it true for almost all of us. But those tumours (neck, shoulder, lung, pelvis) have already proven stronger than all the major operations and cycles of chemo and radiation, and must win in the end. I enjoy this plateau while it lasts, but this is not remission, still less the “breakthrough” or “miracle” that fills cancer survivor forums and media chatter. I will wither away.

The Tibet movement is withering. The world has moved on, and we can move with it. In hindsight, the peak decade for the Tibet movement was the 1990s, a decade in which, in a post-Cold War world it seemed possible that human rights became universal, transcending national sovereignty. Those days are now long gone, as ugly nationalism roars back. I need to move on to be better prepared for the confusions of the bardo, and we all need to move on to deal with the bardo of this life and its aggressive governments.

Tibetans have always been good at seizing those moments when, in that moment alone, the small may best the big. How did minister Gar Tongtsen win the Chinese princess Wencheng to marry her to the Tibetan king Songtsen? By a clear mind, wit, and an earthy groundedness. How do we reinsert Tibet into global debate? By noticing Tibet as the far end of China’s “social credit” system of punishments and rewards for people judged, by hi-tech surveillance, to be trustworthy or untrustworthy. Not only is China’s delusion of total control of each citizen a widespread concern worldwide, there is now increasing recognition that China’s reliance on Alibaba, and our reliance on Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google have much in common, and it’s scary.

We need a minister Gar to join the dots, to remind us where all that Orwellian nonsense is first trialled and implemented: in Tibet. That means Tibet is no longer an afterthought, it is central to the world we are now in, where huge high tech monopolies dominate our lives, know exactly who we are and what we want, and make their money from selling their data on you and me to product makers. There is a rapid convergence here, in which China and the rest of the world are not really different, and if anything China is the leader we are all following, with Tibet in the vanguard as laboratory for testing big data gathered from our every move. That’s a major opportunity.

Only Tibetans can make that pitch. Even if I live on a while, there is not much one old white guy in a village in peripheral Australia can do, other than watch carefully. So that is my pitch, to you, the Tibetan reader, to become a new Gedun Chophel.

I do owe you an explanation, and it morphed into an exhortation. Is this my “last will and testament?” No one knows. May we meet again online, in this world as well as the next.



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Blog two of four on splitting the land of Tibet from the Tibetans as a people


If all human activity in Tibet is harmful to biodiversity and water supply, nature and culture have been fully divorced, and exist only as antagonists. The possibility of humans living in nature, with nature, in sustainability, is swept aside, as an impossibility. Extreme dualism is now normal. Until, at last, construction of ecological civilisation brings these two competing realms together anew, thanks to the wisdom and top-level design of the Chinese Communist party.

China’s scientists, attuned to official policy,  are now able to reduce the whole of Tibet to a single number, the Human Footprint Score, proclaiming its rise as a danger signal, attributable mostly to increased impacts of livestock herd numbers rather than China’s intensive investments in enclaves of extraction and urbanisation, and the transport networks connecting them. This naturalises the dominance of a single metric, which would never be administered to the overworked, overloaded landscapes on the other side of the Hu Huanyong line. Imagine the Human Footprint Score (HFS) for the polluted, overcrowded, industrialised and highly urbanised provinces of eastern China. But the focus of Chinese science, and central planning, is on Tibet, and the HFS numbers are increasing, by as much as 32.35% (note the precision) in only the two decades from 1990 to 2010. Further, this alarming increase is due mostly to the grazing pressure of increasing herd sizes, rather than other satellite readable indicators of human impact such as the amount of streetlamp light detectable from space, which is actually one of the five metrics constituting the Human Footprint Score.

The antagonism  between nature and any human presence in the landscape, established by the Human Footprint Score, supplies the scientific rationale for depopulating Tibet, while no one has dreamt of depopulating lowland China since Han officials of the Yuan dynasty talked their newly ascendant Mongol rulers out of killing the Han peasant farmers of northern China over six centuries ago.

In 2018, a team of Chinese land resource geoscientists from prestigious research institutes in Beijing, Wuhan and Berlin published their HFS assessment of Tibet Autonomous Region in a respectable academic journal, Science of the Total Environment. [1] Their starting point is that any human activity in Tibet is harmful, a self-evident, axiomatically true baseline. They “considered five categories of human pressure (population density, land use intensity, grazing intensity, road and railways, and the electricity infrastructure) to map the human footprint for 1990 and 2010 in a spatially explicit way. These pressures were weighted according to estimates of their relative levels of influence on nature. Tibet has one of the world’s largest high-mountain grassland ecosystems and is a major pastoral area of China. Therefore, grazing intensity was considered to be a human pressure in Tibet, which was consistent with previous studies of the Tibetan Plateau.”

The scientific team weighted all their sat-cam generated data in accord with this initial assumption. Their frame was the years 1990 to 2010, both being census years which reveal the total human population of the Tibetan Plateau has increased greatly, from around six million in the 1950s to over ten million today, due mostly to the influx of Han and Hui immigrants to urban areas and farming districts in Qinghai.  This population increase, accompanied by rapid urbanisation and a massive capital expenditure on infrastructure and logistics, on highways, railways, hydro power stations, electricity grids, oil wells and pipelines somehow add up to a lesser impact than changes in nomadic grazing between 1990 and 2010.

From the outset, they make brazen assumptions: “Human activities pose severe threats to ecosystems. As the Earth’s third pole, the Tibetan Plateau (TP) provides various ecosystem services for human beings, including water resources for nearly 40% of the world’s population.  The eastern and southeastern TP and the central part of the Tibet Autonomous Region saw high HII. For 1990–2010, the 1 km scale mean HII increased by 28.43%, which is much greater than the global level of 9% for 1993–2009, suggesting that the TP and the ecosystem services it provided may face with more threats. HII increase was mainly observed in the northeastern TP. Rapid increase of human activities within valuable regions for water retention and biodiversity conservation during 1990–2010 were detected, especially for the former.[2]

The mapping of the scientists is misleading, even dishonest, for several reasons. First, by taking the years 1990, 2000 and 2010 as their benchmarks, the intensive industrialisation of parts of Tibet prior to 1990 is largely ignored, especially in the Tsaidam Basin. China has extracted around two million tons of oil a year from the Tsaidam for decades, more recently large quantities of gas have been extracted and piped to Chinese industrial centres.

Second, the watersheds rising in Tibet provide water to around 1.3 billion people, not “nearly 40% of the world’s population”, a number obtainable by adding the entire populations of the sovereign territories of all state from Pakistan through to Vietnam and China, including billions of people outside of watersheds whose upstream is in Tibet. To claim 40% of humanity drinks water from Tibet relies on political definitions of nation-states, not on scientific categories of water catchments.

Third, the map, immediately usable by policy makers, does unite the entire Tibetan Plateau as a singular entity, including all 150 counties, whether they are in TAR, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. However, their unit of reporting human impact is the county, even though what distinguishes China’s human impacts is their location in specific enclaves of intensive exploitation and intensive change of land use. By generalising impacts at county level, entire counties are branded. They also map at one sq km level, which is more precise in zeroing in on China’s interventions as the locus of human impact.

Fourth, many of the most intensively  impacted counties are in areas where Tibetans have long been outnumbered, disempowered and marginalised by decades of immigration of Hui Muslim Chinese and other Han Chinese farmers, and in recent years, industrial workers in the many factories surrounding Xining, the capital of Qinghai, now a city of well over two million, making it by far the biggest city of the Tibetan Plateau, with the biggest footprint.

Fifth, these studies fail to mention the rise in human habitation of the Tibetan Plateau, from a population of six million (by Tibetan estimates, less by Chinese census data) four or five decades ago, to a total of more than 10 million, according to the latest (2010) census. This rise of at least 65 per cent is in part due to a rise in Tibetan population, but is mostly due to push and pull immigration, as Muslim Chinese join relatives who settled in Qinghai earlier in the 20th century, and official resettlement schemes encouraged immigration, or coerced it.

Sixth, their headline finding is that human impact intensity in Tibet increased by 28.43 per cent, far faster than global human impact intensity increased.  This alarmingly precise computation, aimed at China’s policy makers, makes Tibet problematic, especially those very big areas already designated as Key Ecological Function Zones, whether for water supply (misleadingly characterised in these reports as water retention) or for conservation of (unspecified) biodiversity. The baseline for comparing Tibet to the world is a single 2016 study that self-importantly claims to reduce the entire land surface of the planet to a single number signifying the impact of humans in 2009 compared with 1993.[3]

These artifices, pretending to be objective, have been thoroughly critiqued.[4]






[1] Shicheng Li, Jianshuang Wu, Jian Gong, Shaowei Li, Human footprint in Tibet: Assessing the spatial layout and effectiveness of nature reserves, Science of the Total Environment, 621 (2018) 18–29

Shicheng Li, Yili Zhang, Zhaofeng Wang, Lanhui Li, Mapping human influence intensity in the Tibetan Plateau for conservation of ecological service functions, Ecosystem Services, Volume 30, Part B, April 2018, Pages 276-286

Fan, J., Xu, Y.,Wang, C.S., Niu, Y.F., Chen, D., Sun, W., 2015. The effects of human activities on the ecological environment of Tibet over the past half century. Chinese Science Bulletin 60, 3057–3066.

[2] Shicheng Li, Yili Zhang, Zhaofeng Wang, Lanhui Li, Mapping human influence intensity in the Tibetan Plateau for conservation of ecological service functions, Ecosystem Services, Volume 30, Part B, April 2018, Pages 276-286. The authors are from the Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing; CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Sciences, Beijing; School of Public Administration, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

[3]Oscar Venter et al, Sixteen years of change in the global terrestrial human footprint and implications for biodiversity conservation, Nature Communications, 7, 12258, 2016,  https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms12558

[4] Theodore M. Porter, Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life, Princeton University Press. (1995)  https://muse.jhu.edu/book/36191 

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