Area Studies
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October 5, Afternoon Session I.  DISCUSSION

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

James D. Seymour, Moderator

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We can pause here for some questions on the points that have been made 
so far.  Again, come to the microphone and then I'll recognize you, and 
please indicate your name.  Come to the microphone and I'll recognize 
you, Jonathan.  This gives me time to get in a quick question.

This is for Xue Haipei - I'd like to ask what it means to say that 60-70 
percent of the biodiversity, does that mean that 60-70 percent of the 
species in the PRC are on the Tibetan plateau?


Yes, that is exactly what I was saying.


Very interesting point.  Okay, Jonathan Mirsky?


I'd just like to ask a simple-minded question of Ms. Tsering Tsomo.  
Because you, that was a very high-level paper you gave.  And I'd just 
like to see if I can get a clear answer on something.  It is very often 
said by people who criticize Chinese activities in Tibet that, to put it 
in its plainest language, that the Chinese are "environmentally stripping 
Tibet."  It's a very well-known accusation, that they are deforesting it, 
and the like.  I just want to know if this is a sustainable charge, or 
not, in your judgment?

Are you suggesting that - Am I saying that this is -

JONATHAN MIRSKY [continuing]
No, no!  I'd just like to have your opinion.  Is it the case that the 
Chinese are, to use your term, I mean, are they "degrading" the 
environment in Tibet?  Are they stripping the forests?  Are they removing 
the natural resources, and so forth?  Is the Chinese occupation an 
environmental disaster for Tibet or not?  Or is it in some ways but also 
not some ways? 

From a Chinese perspective I would say they would be "developing" Tibet 
rather than "stripping" Tibet of its resources and environmentally 
degrading it.  I would suggest "yes" and "no," to that answer.

JONATHAN MIRSKY [continuing]
So, how about the yes part?

Well, at least according to _them_ they are developing the region.

JONATHAN MIRSKY  [continuing]
All right, so, what is the "no" part?

No, in fact - at least from a Tibetan perspective "no," because 
culturally they've been insensitive to the region.

JONATHAN MIRSKY  [continuing]
Yes, but that is putting it very mildly... _Not_ that I'm trying to get 
you to say something, I'm really not.  But this is a very serious charge 
made by many of the critics of the Chinese in Tibet.  And, _of course_ 
the Chinese say that they're "developing" the region.  But when you say 
they're being "insensitive", can you just be a little more specific about 
that, and tell us about it in a minute or two, because except for the 
attacks on the religious community and on that establishment in Tibet, 
the most serious charge in the anti-Chinese case, is the charge against 
the environment.  So I think that we would gain something from hearing 
from you specifically, on that matter.

Pardon me for interpreting Jonathan Mirsky's question (laughter), but I 
think the question is:  we know the Tibetans are very sensitive about 
this.  Are they being _oversensitive_, looking at it in a strictly 
scientific manner?

Are Tibetans being insensitive?  Over-sensitive?

Are they being oversensitive?
Tibetans being oversensitive, hm.  Culturally, no.  Yes. No, no, no!  
Let me answer that question properly.  As a Tibetan refugee born and 
brought up in exile, I have been brought up in a Westernized, so-called 
"modernized" society and therefore I would see that development is 
important for Tibet.  Right?  Economic development is important for 

And yet I see that the large number of Chinese people who are coming in 
and who are benefiting _from_ that development _is_ insensitive, in that 
sense.  I would see it as insensitive.  But yes, personally I would say 
that economic development is, to an extent, of importance for Tibet.

JONATHAN MIRSKY [continuing]
But do you mean the _way_ the Chinese are doing it?  This is not a 
general question, now.  _Is_ what the Chinese are doing in Tibet - is it 
really developing Tibet or isn't it?  Is it stripping Tibet, or isn't it?  
Is it good for it?  Is it developing it?  What is actually going on?  I'd 
like to know.

Is it economic development?  Yes.  I will not say more than this.

TANG DAXIAN [at times gesturing to a map]
[in Chinese]  Sorry, I am sorry.  I would like to ask an apology from 
the lady on behalf of Dr. Jonathan Mirsky's rigor.  Dr. Mirsky is a very 
serious writer and editor and moderator.  We have to be responsible; in 
my view, we need to have facts when we are investigating and discussing 
Tibetan issues.  The figures that the lady cited in her paper are mostly 
hypocritical figures given by the Chinese authorities' reports, the 
credibility of which is questionable.  This is important to note.  Many 
of these are wrong figures.  Many people want to solve the Tibetan 
problems, but they have quoted the wrong numbers given by the Chinese 

The figures about the exploitation of the Yamdro Lake and the massive 
"aid" given by the Chinese Government are actually not accurate.  These 
are quoted from the May conference held in Southwest China. But I can 
tell you this is a disguise, this is only a smoke screen.  I can tell you 
that there are only two large-scale governmental support projects in 
Tibet.  In this meeting, for the first time, I want to disclose some 
figures.  One project is to establish a space-satellite center in Tibet.  
Perhaps you don't know this.

The second project is to continuously exploit geothermal energy 
resources in the Yangpachen area, near Lhasa.  The Chinese Government has 
been very successful in exploiting geothermal energy and has been closing 
one area after another to develop this.  It is because they do not really 
want to develop the resources there - they are doing it for strategic 
considerations.  Because there is a joint meeting between the Economic 
Planning Committee and the national Defense committee saying that the 
projects in Tibet should be put on hold for 20 years.  However, any 
exploited energy will not be used in Tibet to help the Tibetan people:  
most of the energy has stored underground and will be used for some 
special purpose in the future.  Therefore, my point is that we should 
exam the data and figure from the Chinese Government in a very critical 

Of course, there is ecological damage in Tibet, some of which are very 
serious, more than what you said; let me give more data to you [to 
Tsering Tsomo].  Let's look at the map.  The Qinghai Province [Amdo], the 
altitude of which is above 5,000 meters, and in the Ali District [near 
Ladakh] of Tibet.  These two places are close to the source of many 
rivers, so it is very dangerous to build a nuclear power station to serve 
a space-satellite base.  The Chinese Government has started to do 
reconnaissance in this area with the help of some Japanese scholars who 
are also involved in this project.  I was arrested in Nimbi in Spring 
1985 when I went there to investigate the current situation of the 
Tibetan monasteries.  At first, I did not know why I was arrested.  Later 
I was told that people had been moved out from this area because of this 
plan and that nobody had been allowed there since then.  The villages 
have already been removed.  As you can see from the map, there are many 
lakes and water, the source of many rivers around this area.  Once this 
water source is contaminated, the result will be very dangerous, very 
terrible.  That is, the contamination will have a severe adverse affect 
on the Yellow River and Mekong River in south Asia, and also the Yangtse 
River in China.

And then, another issue that may need our attention is that the forest 
in Southern Tibet, from the Nyangchi and Chamdo areas to Yunnan Province, 
has been damaged tremendously.  These areas are the only scenic spots on 
this side of the Himalaya, but now they have been damaged.  At the 
conference on ecological balance, the general opinion was that they 
should be concerned, but that the military had already decided to 
"develop" that area by cutting down 30% of the forest there.  This is a 
very serious situation, very serious.

In sum, this is a question of methodology.  At present, the situation in 
Tibet is more or less what I have said.  I think those who are aiming for 
real research of the Tibetan issue should be able to discern the problem 
with the figures put forward by the CCP.  This is the methodology that 
you have to adopt; without doing this, it is impossible for you to raise 
objections and to make suggestions to the changes that the CCP should put 
into effect.  This is what Dr. Mirsky just now said:  that this is the 
attitude and the methodology we should adapt.  I apologize for taking so 
much time.  

I'm very glad for that input, and let me say that the questions from the 
floor today have all been from Tibetans and us foreigners.  With the 
exception of Tang Daxian who doesn't really count because he's also a 
speaker.  So

[now in Chinese], it is especially welcomed that you Chinese - Han 
Chinese - ask questions.

Mine is not really a question.  I'd like to make an observation about 
the question that was asked from the floor.  Has China been accused 
unfairly of environmental degradation in Tibet?  Now, I'm not an expert 
on the environment or anything like that, but I had two incidents:  one 
was in the early '80s.  A group of the Tibetan delegation went to tour in 
various parts of Tibet, and when they came back to New York we had a 
slide show at the Office of Tibet.  And one slide showed a bare mountain 
and a town in front of the mountain.  The speaker said, "Now that's 
Chatrim."  We had a person who came from Chatrim who had left there when 
he was about twenty years old.  And he said, "No, that's not my hometown!  
That's not Chatrim".  They told him, "Look carefully, that is Chatrim."  
And he finally realized that it _was_ Chatrim.  He didn't recognize it 
because all the forests were gone.  Before, he said, the backdrop of the 
town was a beautiful mountain full of junipers and pine trees.  Now all 
that has been _totally destroyed_, totally cut, so that he couldn't even 
recognize his own birthplace!  I think that is especially poignant.
Another incident is, in 1985, I went back to Lhasa where I was born and 
raised and lived until I, too, was about twenty.  In Lhasa, as a boy, one 
of the things we played with - you know, when your parents are making 
dough - we always made an animal out of the dough, a black raven - in 
Tibetan we call it a "Porog" - all Tibetan children are familiar with 
stories about the black raven.  They were full of those ravens wherever 
you went in Lhasa, wherever there is something happening, especially 
where some monks' ceremonies going on, and after the ceremony they put 
out on the rooftop some of the offerings, and those ravens would just 
flock there, in the hundreds!  So, one of the things that really struck 
me when I went back to Lhasa was there was not a single raven to be seen 
in Lhasa, or in any of the other areas I traveled in.

The last question on this half of the panel will be from Professor June 

I think there's no doubt that the Chinese are guilty as charged on the 
matter of the environment.  There were separate groups of botanists and 
zoologists who went to Tibet in the early 1980s, and they _each_ came 
back - apparently not having met each other in the process - and wrote 
articles for their respective magazines saying, you know, we can't find 
plants and we can't find animals and we know they were here before.
But apparently there was this very very bad famine - not "apparently" - 
there _was_ a very bad famine - when the wheat that the Chinese forced 
the Tibetans to plant exhausted the soil and created a famine and the 
Chinese admitting that and they sent huge airplanes into Lhasa to 
evacuate the Han, because there was just nothing to eat.

In Qinghai, in Tibetan areas of Qinghai or, pardon me, in Amdo, there 
was a dam built a few years ago which caused a tremendous environmental 
problem because it raised the temperature in the area surrounding the 
reservoir, which created higher winds which then eroded the grasslands 
which meant that the herds couldn't graze properly.

There is also another form of environmental degradation which the 
Beijing government _didn't_ intend, and that is they were telling people 
please save forests in Tibet at the same time they had ordered the PLA, 
the Peoples' Liberation Army, to go into sideline production, and the PLA 
was cutting the forests and making furniture and selling it at profit.  
So, part of this is ordered from Beijing and part of it is unintentional 
and not ordered by Beijing, but is a spin-off of other policies.  So, I 
think the Han are guilty as charged on this one.

A question for Miss Tsering Tsomo, and that is you mentioned that the 
Chinese are trying to push to get livestock production up.  One of my 
hobbies is keeping statistics from Tibet, and I noticed that livestock 
production in Tibet has been stagnant for the last five years or more - I 
haven't got my figures in front of me - I asked someone about this a few 
years ago, and he said, "Oh yes, the Chinese have come to a conscious 
policy that increasing livestock production would mean over-grazing and 
they're not doing that anymore."  Have you heard anything - because that 
doesn't quite jibe with what I thought I heard you say, and I'd just like 
you to clarify it.  Thank you.

I got my figures from the FBIS Reports, so I'm not too sure if they're 
the most recent figures, the 1990-1991 figures.  They didn't mention 
anything other than saying that they've increased the livestock.

I've got some other figures for you and I will send them to you.  But 
the figures they actually give out even though every year they say 
livestock production is quite good, they are giving out the same figures 
as the year before.

It's against the rule to say anything unless you're speaking into a 
microphone.  One final comment from Sophie Young, and she has promised me 
to limit her comment to thirty seconds.

[in English with Chinese terms] I felt compelled to come up here because 
I'm neither a "han ren" (Chinese) nor a "waiguo ren" (foreigner) nor a 
Tibetan.  I'm a "hua qiao" (overseas Chinese).

I was concerned about the question earlier:  is the Tibetan concern over 
the environment on the plateau too great a concern, is it excessive?  To 
me, posing the question in those terms is very disturbing because we are 
_still_ learning how to define environmental degradation, how to define 
environmental impact, as it is.  And I think the question that we should 
be dealing with, until we have reached a consensus globally on this 
matter, is self-determination.  And whether people who have been 
traditional stewards of the land are capable and empowered to continue 
their stewardship _without_ the imposition of a foreign power.  
And a very brief _final_ final question, because now we're way over 

[in Chinese]  I have a doubt about what was said just now [by June 
Teufel Dreyer] and I want to add something to the lady's words.  Just now 
she said the Han Chinese people are guilty.  I do not believe that.  The 
ordinary people are not guilty.  They would like to live on their land 
peacefully, happily, and freely.  Those who are guilty are those who want 
to seek political power and suppress the people.  It is the autocrats who 
are guilty.  We cannot pit the Tibetan and the Han people.  We should 
fight against the small number of autocrats!

Xue Haipei, you wrap it up, then and respond to that.

[in English]  I'll just make a quick comment on that.  I've been 
listening to what they're talking to and fro.  I think they are two 
elements to that.

First, the Chinese will say exactly that what we have done in Tibet is 
exactly what we did in the Cultural Revolution.  We had disasters all 
over the nation, so we have had a consistent policy all over, in 
Szechuan, in northeast China or in Tibet.  On the other hand, you can't 
just say that because of the Cultural Revolution, just as we have done in 
other parts of China, it's okay or somehow can be condoned in Tibet.  It 
is a different situation.

As to the question of whether Tibetans are oversensitive to environment, 
I really want to make, to tell, a simple story about that:  as a Han I 
have gone to Tibet a lot, very often in that area you sometimes have 
Tibetan drivers driving a truck or car, sometimes you have Han Chinese 
drivers, and on several occasions when a Chinese driver is driving his 
car in the evening, when he sees some small animal crossing the road, 
he's likely to speed up and just crush the creature!  Well, on several 
occasions, I'm very moved to see that Tibetan drivers prefer to stop the 
car to let the small creature pass!

The Tibetan environment is such a fragile system I don't think the 
Tibetans are being oversensitive to [degradation of] the land.  Part of 
this comes out of the Buddhist sensitivity to nature.  On the other hand, 
if you're talking about whether there is such a stripping off of Tibet, I 
think yes, there is a stripping but whether that's a deliberate policy 
decision of the Han nation to somehow get the resources from Tibet, I 
think that's not the case specifically in terms of the forest and 
wildlife and big dam projects and the environmental degradation that 

And as the other gentleman [Phintso Thonden] mentioned I also heard the 
same story in Lhasa, that they used to have a lot of migratory birds in 
Lhasa, but you see almost none of them now.  And, finally, because more 
and more Chinese people who are supposed to be bringing benefits to the 
Tibetan people by building those big constructions projects, the last big 
factor is the overloading of the natural resources. 

Thank you one and all.  More to be said here, but we have to proceed to 
the next part of the panel.