Area Studies
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THE POTOMAC CONFERENCE, October 5 - 6, 1992

October 5, Afternoon Session I.

  Environmental Issues / Environmental Security
  Economic Development and Subsidies / 
  Impact of the Reform Policies in Tibet

James D. Seymour, Moderator

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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.


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 
self-determination, etc.

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. 


[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 


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]


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 ....


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?


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 
environmental goals.


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.