THE POTOMAC CONFERENCE, October 5 - 6, 1992
SINO-TIBETAN RELATIONS: PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
October 5, Afternoon Session I.
ENVIRONMENT & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Environmental Issues / Environmental Security
Economic Development and Subsidies /
Impact of the Reform Policies in Tibet
James D. Seymour, Moderator
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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND SUBSIDIES, DISCUSSION
JAMES D. SEYMOUR
We have time for a few brief questions, if you'll come to the
microphone. Identify yourself, make the questions brief but that does
not mean speak fast.
JOHN S. MAJOR
For purposes of this conference, anyway, I guess I'm an independent
sinologist. This is more a comment than a question. It seems to me that
in the discussion earlier, one of the most important things that was said
was that the question of economics and the environment in Tibet is
primarily a question of self-determination. That doesn't mean that
self-determination is a panacea. If you look at Nepal, a sovereign
state, it has an urgent crisis of deforestation, and the Nepalese are
doing it themselves. India, since 1947, has removed so much of its
forest cover that what remains is virtually insignificant. Malaysia is
energetically doing the same thing right now.
And it seems to me that, if we look for an analogy with what's going on
in Tibet, we might look to Uzbekhistan where, at the insistence of the
Soviet government, the Uzbekhs put all of their energy into cotton
production, with the result that the Aral Sea has shrunk to half its
former size. The land has become desertified and contaminated with salt,
and the level of birth defects and childhood diseases from environmental
causes is really horrendous. It seems to be that what we have in
Uzbekhistan is the end-point of what we might be seeing developing in
Tibet. The Uzbekhs now are independent; they have the choice of
continuing cotton production and realizing that in another ten or fifteen
years that will come to a natural end anyway - they're really screwed -
or they can stop now and see their economy collapse immediately.
This is the consequence of a country having been developed to the
specifications of _someone else_. It's classic imperialism. It seems to
me that if we look at what is going on in Tibet, the question is not,
immediately, whether it is or is not _right now_ an environmental
disaster, but rather that 10 years from now, 15 years from now, the
Tibetans are going to be carrying the can for an economic development
program that was not of their devising, but _they_ have to live with the
[State Department expert on environment] I just have a question to
pose. Actually, I would pose it to perhaps whoever wishes to answer.
Chris Wu, I will be picking up on his point made, which was excellent in
that I think it brought the two issues together, both economics and
environmental, but also the issue of human rights, the issue of
One thing I'd like to know is know is, would it be possible that both
the Tibetans and the Chinese come together to the table to talk about the
subject which they actually do have in common. Both have in common the
issues of the environment, and whether you consider it environmental
degradation or whether you consider it sustainable development,
development in the case of Tibet which perhaps is not necessarily
environmentally sound, but that, perhaps, this one issue, which isn't so
politically volatile as many others, might be an issue that could be
brought to the table. Could maybe we start with just that one issue?
And I don't say "we" meaning myself, but meaning both of the parties that
are here today.
CHRIS WU [WU FAN]
[now in English] Actually, as today we sit down, we need to put that
issue on the table now. Today is exactly that everybody has interesting
things. I can speak only for one person, not all people, one person,
okay? These things keep the people together. At this meeting, it's on
the table now! I hope that we can continue, that we can make a schedule
of regular meetings to discuss both sides and lay the data on the table,
in order to discuss the details. Today is just the general first
JAMES D. SEYMOUR
Bob [Thurman], excuse me, we have one more question and since you're
about to have the floor anyway, I'm going to recognize Professor Tom
[Grunfeld yields the mic to Thurman]
ROBERT A.F. THURMAN
It's a very brief point. Something that came up in Mr. Chris Wu's very
interesting comments, and also at the beginning of the conference, and
that is a phrase that we, the Chinese and the Tibetans, have been sharing
the same piece of land for 5000 years. And if we are going to put data
on the table, we have to be clear that that is a _complete_ mistake.
That is not a correct statement. There have been no Chinese in Tibet for
5000 years, in fact. Just as there have been no Tibetans in China,
except for the occasional raid back and forth. Only for 40 years have
there been many Chinese in Tibet. Only for the _last_ 40 years. And
before that for 5000 years there were _no_ Tibetans in China. When you
go to Tibet you go along and you see suddenly the land goes _whoop_!
Like that [gesturing up]. You see, from Chengdu, you fly over, and once
it goes _whoop_! they've been no Chinese for 5000 years. So you have not
been sharing that land, you've been in your own land - Chinese in China,
Tibetans in Tibet, and if we are going to start, even though there are
many Chinese there now, if we're going to start putting things on the
table, we'll have to be clear about that point. That's all. Thank you.
[Professor of History, SUNY-Empire State College] I have two questions:
one for Mr. Wangchuk and one for Tsering Tsomo. On the issue of
subsidies, there are two sets of subsidies - there's a military subsidy
and a civilian subsidy. As far as I know, the Chinese government has
never published anything about the military subsidies ....
TSETEN WANGCHUK SHARLHO [interrupting]
One thing has nothing to do with the other.
TOM GRUNFELD [continuing]
....Okay, I just wanted to be clear about that because Mr. Wu mentioned
the military, and that's a whole different budget.
On the civilian subsidies, in 1988 I interviewed officials of the
Nationalities Affairs Commission, and they told me that the vast majority
of the sum which has been given to Tibet, which runs into the hundreds of
millions of yuan - I don't have the number with me - were spent on
infrastructure for the Han Chinese. Building houses for them, building
offices for them, extra pensions, extra money for their children to go
back China to study. And that's where almost all of that money went to.
They also said then, in 1988, that that was about to change very
drastically. So I have a couple of questions. One is, they wouldn't
give me hard figures, which is what I really wanted. But one is, have
you seen statistics - actual dollar, yuan, amounts? And two is, has that
changed since '88?
TSETEN WANGCHUK SHARLHO
Yes, I have seen data, although I'm a little bit cautious about the
figures. I think basically you can see that just, as you know, Mr. Tang
made a really good point, that of you want to research now, you have to
find within the statistical data, you have to find the contradictions. I
think, since 1989, they have been publishing a book called _Tibetan
Social and Economic data in Tibet_ [_Xizang shehui jingi tongi
nianjian_], which is very very detailed. The other point you said, since
reform particularly in the mid 80s, has there been any fundamental
change? My answer is, I don't think there is fundamental change.
Although maybe they're using the subsidies to serve their political
purpose even more effectively than before. But I don't think there's
really been any fundamental change.
TOM GRUNFELD [continuing]
A quick question, sort of a follow-up on the one Jonathan Mirsky asked,
and that is, there are two parts to the question: ecology is one - is
the Beijing government sensitive _at all_ to ecological matters anywhere
in the People's Republic of China? And two, is Tibet treated
differently, ecologically? Are they, do they destroy the environment at
a faster rate in Tibet than anywhere else because of the difference in
ethnicity and the difference in other -
To the first point I would say that they have been treating Tibet as
they've been treating other parts of China, in fact. Economic
development is the fundamental goal for China, and environmental policies
and environmental goals are never given importance. And I would say that
Tibet, ethnically, I don't think is considered a separate case, and so
Tibetan economic development is equally given priority rather than
JAMES D. SEYMOUR
I thank the panel, I think you've done a great job. We'll take a brief
break but we will resume at a quarter past four. Please be back in your
seats because that's when things will start. In ten minutes.