By Phurbu Thinley
(Photo: Tenzin Dasel/Phayul)
Dharamsala: “With the arrival of the trains to Lhasa – connecting the capital of Tibet to the industrial and business centres of China, the real business has only just begun” affirms the starting line of “Mining Tibet: Feeding the Hungry Dragon,” a statement leaflet distributed by Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) during a talk on the topic organised by them here last week.
Gabriel Lafitte and Thierry Dodin were the resource persons for the talk.
Gabriel Lafitte is a Development Policy Consultant and Lecturer on Global Environmental Issues at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia. He is also an environment and development scholar on Tibet. Thierry Dodin is the Director of his newly established TibetInfoNet after the former organisation, Tibetan Information Network (TIN) ceased functioning after it reportedly went bankruptcy during his tenure.
Two of them delved into the various aspects of mining in Tibet, its present mining situation, the kinds of major mining currently operating in Tibet and the new trend in mining involving western companies. Huge potential impact of the newly introduced railway networks in Tibet in accelerating the already growing scale of mining operations in Tibet was also raised. The talk also highlighted the devastating environmental apprehensions resulting from unchecked mining on Tibetan plateau. The speakers also detailed the mining and developmental strategies of China and how China is actually planning to meet its growing demand for raw materials from Tibet.
(Photo: Tenzin Dasel/Phayul)
China today is the largest consumer of raw materials, including iron ore, steel and copper. In the face of rising price in importing the raw materials from its currently supplying countries, China has long cast its eye on Tibet to exploit the rich mineral reserves there in order to meet its growing need. To do this, China has gone one step ahead in allowing western companies, which are better equipped with more sophisticated technology and technical know-how to operate mining in hostile and rugged Tibetan plateau. For the western companies, it is proving an easy way to make fast money out of the politically suppressed Tibetan regions without having the need to consult local Tibetans for their approval.
Gabriel maintained that besides connecting major cities in Tibet, the new railway networks increasingly laid inside Tibet is seen linking to rich prospective mining areas. According to him, although the mining in Tibet has remained relatively small in scale as compared to many other parts of the world, he said that the situation is soon going to change since more and more mining companies are driven into Tibet, including western mining companies lately.
Among other things, Thierry said, “Mining is unpopular among Tibetans in Tibet”. He, on the other hand, attempts to make western mining companies look developmentally friendlier to Tibetans and Tibetan ecology as compared to Chinese mining companies by stating that western companies are more likely to be sensitive to corporate responsibility in delicate areas like Tibet. He, however, remains clueless when asked if western corporate involvement would only contribute in numbers to the already existing Chinese mining companies in Tibet and making the situation even worse.
Tibetans Hijack Continental Minerals AGM/File Photo:SFT
Certain issues relating to mining operations in Tibet by Continental Minerals, a Canadian subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc, based in Vancouver, were raised strongly during the question and answer session after the talks.
One of the persons in the crowd demanded Thierry to furnish financial and information details of TibetInfoNet to make it a charity organisation imparting free, unbiased, true, accurate and reliable information on Tibet and has not acted as consultancy agency for mining companies like Continental Minerals and seven others operating inside Tibet, which a section of Tibetans and Tibet Support Groups of lately have been alleging him of doing.
Thierry and his organisation are purportedly assisting Continental Minerals by advising the company in ways to maintain its mining activities in Tibet under sound operation without being caught up in complex allegations. Thierry admits that he is under mandate to give five days to the Continental Minerals to improve situation prior to his publishing of any report that might expose any serious social, ecological or other ground disturbances as a direct result of its mining in the Tibetan area.
During the talk, some of the participants openly accused Thierry and his organisation registered in Germany for assisting Continental Minerals in particular and seven other mining companies by providing them with information in consideration for financial remunerative in return.
File photo: stopminingtibet.com
The allegations made during the session questions the credibility of the TibetInfoNet to describe itself as an independent, true, reliable, unbiased and a trusted monitoring body for Tibet. Nevertheless, Thierry agrees that Continental Minerals, in collaboration with China, is taking “undue advantage” of the troubled Tibetan situation in looting out Tibet’s mineral wealth. He is of the knowledge that Continental Minerals made no significant effort to consult the Tibetan people or to seek their informed consent regarding its mining and also said that Continental Minerals was completely aware that Tibetans in Tibet are in no position to make decision freely of their own.
Shetongmon (Ch: Xietongmen), a non descriptive valley on the banks of Yarlung River near Shigatse in Western Tibet is the focused destination to Continental Minerals. The area is said to be bursting with activity as Chinese businessmen, western corporate investors and mining contractors have flocked in to explore the rich deposit of gold and copper found in the area.
SFT’s statement establishes that rich mineral resource of Tibet had been one of the prime targets of China’s occupation of Tibet. The organisation concludes that China’s ambitious launch of railway networks to Tibet despite high cost in operating them through the rugged, yet fragile permafrost regions of Tibet is simply aimed at draining the rich mineral reserves in Tibet and to further consolidate its control over Tibet to exploit the region.
The restless protests of exile Tibetans and voiceless anguish of Tibetans in Tibet are too meek to challenge the Communist China’s discretionary authority to allow rampant exploitation of Tibet’s rich mineral reserves, which were kept untapped until Tibet was forcefully occupied by the communist force in 1949.
Tibetans have long been professing the faith of holding nature as too sacrosanct to be disturbed. Their exclusive rights over their own land are now being infringed by outsiders by explicitly keeping them far out of the decision making circles.
An unprecedented rush to exploit the vast untapped mineral reserves in Tibet at a global scale appears to have cleared its entry on the roof of the world. Thierry says he stopped counting the number of mining sites in Tibet after it reached 120. And that was already long time back. The chances of stopping the mining rage in Tibet and elsewhere, according to him, is almost next to impossible and the only options left might be to look for other impact-minimising solutions.
“To Tibetans all mining activities are evil” notes one person during the talk while further adding “we know that western exploiting companies’ presence in Tibet is in no way better for Tibet and Tibetans.”
As negative impacts of mining in Tibet are already becoming visible and mining rage in Tibet is now poised to enter into a global scale phase, monitoring bodies and Tibetan activists are at high alert and the whole corporate world must now be watching closely to it.
“As more railways networks are being readied and with the arrival of western corporate world in Tibet, within the nest five to ten years more than hundred big and small mines are expected to be operational feeding the hungry dragon” the SFT’s report statement says.
Tibetans and Tibet Support Groups like SFT demand western corporate to follow - The Guidelines for International Investment in Tibet” developed by the Tibetan Government in Exile before undertaking any investment projects inside Tibet. In a recent report, a Montreal based human-rights group has criticised Canadian companies for endangering the rights of indigenous residents in three major investment projects in Asia and Africa, which included mining operations.
Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan write-cum-activist, who moderated the talk said, “As mining sites in Tibet are becoming larger and larger, our campaigns foiling out their operations must become bigger and bigger.” “Tibetans alone and nobody else have the right to take decisions on Tibet” he asserts. “We shall not hesitate to expose any wrong doings in Tibet no matter who ever is involved” he said before finally concluding the talk.To know more on the topic, refer “Mining Tibet: Feeding the Hungry Dragon” on Phayul’s opinion column