Conflict & Justice

Tibetans challenge Chinese mining exploitation of occupied territory


Pro-Tibetan protestors hold pictures of Gendun Cheokyi Nyima (The Panchen Lama) during a demonstration outside the Chinese consulate in Barcelona on May 17, 2013 to demand human rights freedom in Tibet and dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing.



Tibetan protesters have announced that they will take their challenge against Chinese mining operations in the northwestern province of Qinghai all the way to Beijing with a petition demanding an end to environmentally destructive diamond mining activity, according to Radio Free Asia.

The protest follows a violent crackdown on demonstrators by the Chinese government on August 13, in which Chinese security forces “stormed” two mining sites that had been the locations of a standoff between Tibetan protestors and Chinese mine workers since early in the week.

China’s large-scale exploitation of mineral resources in Tibet has long been a source of tension between the Communist state and the occupied land, the India-based Central Tibetan Administration has said. The administration reported that mining has led to sustained socio-economic and environmental problems, as well as a substantial influx of Chinese migrant workers into Tibetan areas, which limits employment opportunities for Tibetans.

The CTA, according to Intercontinental Cry Magazine, said it has “repeatedly called on China to ensure active participation of Tibetan people in all decision-making process and that social, environmental and cultural impacts assessment are carried out.”

But instead, the magazine reported, the central government in 2012 issued plans to “extinguish what remains of the nomadic way of life in Occupied Tibet.”

This crackdown, the report added, should be viewed in light of this policy, since “in distinguishing the Tibetan traditional nomadic and semi-nomadic way of life, the Chinese are hoping to make way for more resource exploitation.”

Following the August 13 crackdown, sources reportedly told Radio Free Asia that “at least 500 armed police had carried out the operation,” beating hundreds of Tibetans protesting the illegal mining activities with electric batons and launching teargas canisters into the crowd.

Eight demonstrators were arrested, six of which have been released “under instructions not to leave the area,” and “many others” were hospitalized, while two others have seemingly disappeared.

Mining work has restarted in one of the two locations where the clash took place, as protesters argue that their peaceful assembly, intending to obstruct mining activities, were “legal and in conformity with speeches made by national leaders.”

“Their actions are in accord with statements made by [former Chinese president] Jiang Zemin and [current Chinese president] Xi Jinping,” a source told Radio Free Asia, on condition of anonymity. “The mining sites in Dzatoe fall within the area described by the central government as a protected environment.”

Dzatoe County is part of the San Jiang Yuan Three Rivers Headwaters Nature Reserve (SNNR), a reserve that was first formed in 2000 in an effort “to protect the sources of three major rivers on the Tibetan plateau: Zachu (Mekong river), Drichu (Yangtse river) and Machu (Yellow river),” according to The Tibet Post.

“Successive Chinese leaders” have reportedly stressed the importance of the SNNR in “countervailing climate change and to preserve the overall ecology of the Tibetan plateau.”

In January of 2003, China's State Council elevated the SNNR from provincial to national nature reserve.

As recently as May, Tibet Post said, Chinese president Xi Jinping promised that China would "never pursue temporary economic growth at the expense of environmental degradation," and that “environmental polluters whose activities cause serious consequences ‘must be brought to account, and should be held accountable for a lifetime.’”

Still, documents displaying government seals giving central government approval for mining, which were later discovered to be counterfeit, gave way to the work that led to protests.

Local activists have said that Chinese authorities “warned of severe punishment including arrest and imprisonment if the Tibetans continued to protest.” But India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said that violent crackdowns on anti-mining protesters are not new in Qinghai Province.

According to the center, “Chinese authorities have sought to silence any kind of local opposition against environmental destruction by brute force in Yushu Prefecture.”

Officials have also reportedly threatened to block government aid to alleviate poverty, and help in funding relocation housing, if protesters continue to demonstrate against environmental destruction.

Living in exile, the “Tibetan Parliament” condemned the Chinese government's crackdown, saying that diamond-mining operations were “being carried out in complete violation of the laws on environmental protection stipulated in the Chinese constitution.”

“We are deeply concerned over China's systematic and rampant exploitation of mineral resources and environment. The Chinese government completely tramples upon the Tibetan people's religious sentiments and their deep respect for environment,” the parliament told the Hindustan Times.

Now, the parliament is urging the international community to act — to put pressure on the Chinese government to “end the destruction of Tibet’s ecology,” which affects people living across the Asian continent.

“The local Tibetans complained that the mining activities trigger environmental problems and are carried out without sanctions from the central government,” the Parliament said, adding that China’s exploitation of mineral resources in has “led to sustained socio-economic and environmental problems and massive influx of Chinese migrant workers into Tibetan areas depriving Tibetans of employment opportunities.”