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
+ + + + + + +
JAMES D. SEYMOUR
So, without further ado, I will introduce Tsering Tsomo. I should
mention that Xue Haipei, who will speak after her, will actually be a
Commentator. That isn't clear on the program.
ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT IN TIBET: ASSESSMENT AND
PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
Until recently, there has been a lack of concern for environmental
issues in development studies. Environmental problems were generally
viewed as an externality, as something "given" in a development
situation, over which people have little control (Redclift, 1984).
However, development policies should be reappraised to examine their
underlying environmental objectives. Of equal importance is the need to
bear in mind that in contrast to "conventional wisdom," environment is
not "apolitical," rather by its very definition it is political
The 1987 Brundtland Report on Environment and Development drew attention
to the need to reassess the relationship between environment and
development. This paper focuses on the issue of development and
environment in Tibet.[Note 1] Concern for development and environmental
issues in Tibet is important because Tibet is situated in an ecologically
fragile zone. The vast majority of the area is a high altitude plateau
with an average elevation of over 4000 meters above sea-level. Further,
concern for development and the environment is also crucial for
understanding the future prospects of social progress and economic
viability for Tibet. This paper specifically assesses the development
policies and projects implemented in Tibet, particularly since the 1950s,
and their impact on the Tibetan environment. The final section of the
paper addresses the concerns and implications of development and
environmental issues for the future of Tibet.
Reconsidering the Relationship
Between Environment and Development
It would be simplistic to believe that environmental degradation is a
recent phenomena. Degradation of the land has been continuing for
millions of years. As illustrated in Blaikie and Brookfield's (1987)
book, _Land Degradation and Society_, degradation occurs in a wide
variety of social and ecological circumstances. Environmental degradation
is emphasized as both natural and human-induced, although the effect of
human interference is not the same at all times in all places. Yet it is
the _intensity_ of degradation that is critical. Simultaneously, not only
are environmental problems serious, but their causes and implications
are extremely complex (Blaikie, 1985; Blaikie and Brookfield, 1987; Rees,
Since the 1970's, when environmental issues became a global concern,
crucial dimensions of the relationship between environment and
development  have been vigorously debated. Today, in spite of the many
programmatic declarations at conferences and workshops, the "marriage"
between the two has not come about easily (Hettne, 1990). In fact, the
concept of "integrated approach to environment and development" has only
been given lip-service, and environmental objectives have been simply
added to the list of development plans (Bartelmus, 1986). Yet for some,
the concept of environment characterizes an ambivalence, which was
originally "advanced to put development politics under indictment.....
now raised like a banner to announce a new era of development" (Sachs,
Additionally, there are differences of opinion on the overall
significance of environmental degradation. The `technological optimists,'
do not see any problem of degradation, while others view degradation
merely as an externality in the development process (Blaikie and
Brookfield, 1987). Indeed today in most developing countries, by giving
priority to economic growth in development policies, environmental
problems have been exacerbated. For the past thirty years, ecological,
social or cultural aspects have been subordinated to the overall goal of
development (Goldsmith, 1985). However, ecological issues cannot be
dismissed, rather they are critical for the long-term economic
development of a region (Yearley, 1991).
In our understanding of the relationship between environment and
development in Tibet, two issues are particularly significant. These
include an appreciation for and an understanding of indigenous,
traditional relations between nature and economy. Tied to this aspect is
the importance of achieving sustainable uses of land and natural
resources, to ensure an ecologically sustainable development.
Although the need to evaluate and consider indigenous concepts of
economic relations has recently been acknowledged, (Booth and Jacobs,
1990; Bunyard, 1984, 1989; Butz, 1991; Goldsmith, 1985; Hoppe, 1987;
Ladakh Project, 1991; Matthews, 1983; Messerschmidt, 1990; Posey, 1989;
Redclift, 1984, 1987; Yapa, 1991, 1992), development policies continue to
ignore and undervalue the importance of traditional modes of exchange and
production. Norgaard (in Redclift, 1987) acknowledges that, "traditional
environmental knowledge is not only devalued by development institutions,
but it is also largely overlooked in the environmental management
literature." Redclift (1987) also adds that indigenous environmental
knowledge has often been ignored in the process of development, because
"it becomes less relevant to the new situation and is systematically
devalued by the process of specialization around competitive production
for the market." According to Yapa (1992a) traditional knowledge was
viewed as `backward' because the process of "knowledge transfer is
informal and oral, and the innovations, subtle and low cost." Chambers
(quoted in Yapa, 1992a) aptly describes the encounter between modernity
and tradition as:
"From rich-country professionals and urban-based professionals in the
third world countries right down to the lowliest extension workers, it is
a common assumption that the modern scientific knowledge of the center is
sophisticated, advanced and valid, and conversely, that whatever rural
people may know will be unsystematic, imprecise, superficial and often
plain wrong. Development then entails disseminating this modern,
scientific and sophisticated knowledge to inform and uplift the rural
masses. Knowledge flows in one direction only - downwards - from those
who are strong, educated and enlightened, towards those who are weak,
ignorant and in darkness."
But studies show that indigenous systems may "provide workable models of
how to achieve a greater measure of equality without doing irreparable
damage to the environment" (Redclift, 1984). In her study of the Ladakhis
in India, Helena Norberg-Hodge (Ladakh Project, 1989) calls for a
reassessment of the very nature of development. For her, development is a
"technological monoculture that is rooted in a narrow scientific world
view, ...[is] an alien culture which destroys diversity and self-reliance
in the name of progress."
The sustainable development approach has been increasingly debated since
its use at the Cocoyoc declaration of environment and development
(Redclift, 1987). In particular, there appears to be a lack of consensus
in the meaning and content of the term (Redclift, 1991). According to the
Brundtland Commission's definition, the phrase means "development which
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs" (in Redclift, 1991). However,
economists view sustainable economic development to involve "maximizing
the net benefits of economic development, subject to maintaining the
services and quality of natural resources over time" (Pearce in Redclift,
1991). In addition to the different perspectives on sustainable
development, there is little agreement about what needs to be sustained,
the different levels of sustainability and the differences in the
sustaining levels of production and consumption (Redclift, 1991).
The contradictions of sustainable development arises because it draws
upon two opposite traditions, one, the limits nature poses on human
beings, and second the potential for human development that is locked up
in nature (Redclift, 1987). Sachs (1991) notes that by using the concept
of sustainable development, the Brundtland Report created a "conceptual
tool for both violating and healing the environment." And Johnston (1989)
in his book, _Environmental Problems: Nature, Economy and State_
concludes that despite the political rhetoric surrounding sustainable
development, it is "not a viable agenda item." As O'Riordan points out,
the concept of sustainable utilization is politically acceptable (because
of its ambiguity), but the concept of sustainability is not (Johnston,
1989). Yet to achieve sustainable development, we must recognize that the
"limits of sustainability have structural as well as natural origins."
(Redclift, 1987) Folke and Kaberger (1991) also add that sustainable
development is merely "continuous development that is never achieved once
and for all, but only approached. It is not a state but a process" and
therefore can only be reinforced but not attained. Johnston (1989) also
asserts that "understanding and solving environmental problems requires
more than a scientific appreciation of environmental processes, but
demands an understanding of how societies work..."
In our understanding of the dynamics between environment and
development, it is important to keep in mind the role of different
interpretations of development, because the development process is viewed
differently by different ideologies (Redclift, 1984). Also, the
environmentalism that has emerged in the developed world cannot be
extended to the developing countries. After all, development and
environment have different connotations for different peoples. (Hettne,
1990; Redclift, 1984)
Environmental and Development Policies
In China and Their Implications for Tibet (Since 1950)
Before a discussion of the relationship between environment and
development in Tibet, it is important to assess the environmental and
regional development policies of China in general. Since the 1950s,
changes in China's development and environmental policies have also had a
direct impact on Tibet. Although designated an autonomous region, the
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to have the final say in all
social, cultural, political and economic decisions of Tibet (Forbes and
McGranahan, 1992). Tibet  like other national minority areas, has been
incorporated into modern China's territory (Cannon, 1989). The national
minorities inhabit more than 60 percent of the total area, but only form
about 7 percent of the population of the People's Republic of China
From a historical perspective, analysts believe China's environmental
problems to have accelerated after the 1949 period, particularly during
the 1950's and 60's, when the Stalinist mode of development as well as
the "grain first" policy were implemented (Boxer, 1991; Smil, 1987).
However, the post-Mao period seems to have seen a more "realistic" change
towards environment, (Smil, 1987) with environment and economy viewed as
complementary dialectical poles (Boxer, 1991).
During the Great Leap Forward (1958-60), and the early phase of the
Cultural Revolution (1966-69), environmental protection issues were
neglected and environmental campaigns during this period were motivated
more by economic reasons than by ecological ones (Glaeser, 1990). Changes
in environmental attitudes and policy during the early 1970s were
probably influenced by discussions in the west. It was at the 1972 United
Nations Conference on Human Environment at Stockholm, when "ecology
became a political topic" (Glaeser, 1990). A year later, China convened
its first National Environment Conference in Beijing, where environment
and development were explicitly linked to each other (Glaeser, 1990)
More recently, both Chinese scientists and officials seem concerned
about the implications of the environmental degradation in China. Reports
and petitions address the ecological crisis in China and call for a need
to understand the implications of environmental problems. (FBIS, 16
February, 1989; 23 March, 1989; 1 July, 1991). Chinese leaders at the
highest level are also clearly aware of the consequences of environment
problems, particularly on the economy (FBIS, 11 May, 1989; 26 September,
Efforts to reduce environmental problems include enforcement of
environmental protection as the national policy, interpreting
environmental regulations, policies and laws, and establishing monitoring
stations (FBIS, 15 February, 1990, Boxer, 1991). Despite spending large
amounts of money on environmental protection, nine billion yuan  in
1989 alone, (FBIS, 20 February, 1990) China has lost billions of yuan in
environmental pollution and ecological destruction, (as much as 100
billion yuan) (FBIS, 30 August, 1991). In fact, Smil (1987) warns that
unless the degradation of the environment is taken care of, the high
yields and increased incomes would soon encounter a diminishing return.
However, in spite of the rhetoric for sustainable development, "... to
leave a fine living environment to our future generations" (FBIS, 9 July,
1991), Chinese leaders continue to emphasize the need for economic
development. Although environmental protection is firmly established as a
high priority policy, national priorities ultimately favor development
(Boxer, 1989). Like most developing countries, environmental policies of
China have been undermined by concerns for commercialization and
industrialization (Smil, 1987), and economic modernization has superseded
concerns over environmental pollution (Boxer, 1991).
Despite a constitutional guarantee of environmental protection as a
'national principle,' the laws and regulations laid down are generally
weak and ineffective (Glaeser, 1990). Glaeser (1990) also notes that in
spite of intentions, consistency and bureaucratic institutionalization,
environmental policy has never been fully implemented. And Boxer (1991)
concludes that China's environment does not seem likely to improve much
during the 1990s.
In the case of Tibet too, Chinese researchers and high-level officials
are aware of the implications of economic development in fragile
ecosystems. However, like the rest of China, economic concerns here
supersede environmental concerns.
Although economics takes precedence over environmental issues in Chinese
development policies, regional impacts of development have been varied.
Since the post-1949 period, development policies in China have stressed
the need to resolve regional differences. As Kirkby and Cannon (1989)
note, "regional equity" is frequently mentioned in official statements,
because uneven patterns in China's space economy are ideologically
unacceptable. Despite the rhetoric, regional disparities in China have
been a continued concern in recent years (Cannon, 1989, 1990; Denny,
1991; Fan, 1991; Goodman, 1989; Lyons, 1991; Wu, 1979; Wu, 1987;
Xiaoqiang and Nanfeng, 1991). Contrary to most studies, Cannon (1990)
however points out that even Mao advocated a favorable attitude towards
the coastal regions and called for a reduction of development
concentration in the interior, views which are consistent with more
recent policies. Hence regional differences have continued since
communist rule in China, and they appear to have intensified during the
last decade. Particularly since the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1985-1990),
officials are concerned with the widening gap between the different
provinces, mainly the coastal eastern provinces, and the western inner
regions (the latter mainly comprised of minority peoples).
Chinese authorities are aware that tilted regional development policies
in the past 10 years have favored the eastern regions. They presume these
policies are appropriate and expect the effects to `trickle down' (Wu,
1987). The notion of comparative regional advantage is stressed, whereby
the western region's main national functions are a source of energy and
mineral resources (Cannon, 1989; 1990).
Thus, according to official sources, the southwest is rich in
agricultural and pastoral products, metal and mineral products - "what
the country badly needs and is short of." (FBIS, 20 June, 1990) They
clearly state that the southwestern regions have a clear advantage in the
development of energy and mineral resources, and "exploitation and use of
these resources will be very important to our country's (sic)
construction... and gradually alleviate energy and raw materials
shortages" (FBIS, 20 June, 1990)
Increased differences among provinces has, according to Cannon (1990),
resulted in resentment and grievance on the part of the inland regions.
However, the grievances do not arise from the national minority groups,
but rather _from the Chinese (Han) who have resettled in the western
regions_ (emphasis added) in large numbers during the past four decades
(Cannon, 1990). In fact, Cannon (1990) points out that the reasons for
discontent are different for the native people and for the immigrated
Chinese. For the indigenous people, the recent regional policies seem to
intensify Chinese (Han) exploitation of their areas. Heberer (1989) also
notes that there is anxiety in many minority areas about the economic
"opening" of these regions, and concern over their resources as well as
the danger of losing national and cultural identities.
However in an effort to appease minority peoples, Chinese central
authorities have attempted to decentralize and extend greater autonomy
to the western regions. Reports (notably FBIS, 3 July, 1991) point out
that the autonomy policy will allow the ethnic minorities to run their
own local affairs. But as Heberer (1989) notes, "autonomy is subject to
the interest of both the state and the Communist Party of China."
Although the notion of decentralization has been stressed in the Chinese
agenda, Denny (1991) is correct in stating that in the past 10 years, the
Central government continued to control and influence the pattern of
economic growth. In fact, though there has been decentralization in terms
of resource management, central authorities continue to control both the
planning and resource allocation procedures. In the TAR too, in an effort
to provide greater autonomy, a series of special policies and flexible
measures are being implemented (FBIS, 16 July, 1991).
Development and Environmental Protection in Tibet
The People's Republic of China's (PRC) plans for Tibet are ambitious.
Beijing's goal for Tibet since the post-1978 has been rapid economic
development that "requires small investments and yields quick results"
(FBIS, 16 July, 1991). According to the Secretary of the Regional
Communist Party Committee, the focus is to boost productivity and raise
the people's living standards by making "economic development the
foundation of social order" (FBIS, 9 March, 1990). These official efforts
will be realized through plans to construct 43 projects, of which 19 key
economic projects are already underway. The 19 projects total an
investment of 3.84 billion yuan, and mainly comprise projects involving
agriculture, energy, mining, transportation and telecommunications (FBIS,
10 December, 1991). More recently, particularly since the Seventh
Five-Year Plan (1986-90), China's development policies for Tibet include
large-scale projects, funded partially by international organizations.
Some of the major development projects underway in the Tibet Autonomous
Region include the construction of the pump-storage hydroelectric power
station on Lake Yamdrog Yumtso (Yamzhog Zumco), which upon completion
will generate 200 million kilowatt hours a year (FBIS, 3 May, 1990). The
other gigantic project financed by the Chinese government includes the 1
billion yuan "one river, two tributaries (streams) project that would
`develop' 18 counties of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Yaluzangbu), Lhasa, and
Nyang (Nianchu) rivers" (FBIS, 26 April, 1991). This project would help
"build this region into a base for producing commercial grain and
nonstaple food, for manufacturing light industrial and textile products,
and for carrying out scientific experiments and applying and popularizing
scientific achievements after 10 years of effort. It also plans to
achieve the target of increasing grain output by 150 million kilograms
and meat output by 24 million kilograms annually, thereby turning the
region into one with a comprehensively developed commodity economy in
Tibet." (FBIS, 16 July, 1991)
Another major project includes the Yangpachen (Yangbajain) Geothermal
plant which upon completion would be the largest geothermal plant in
China (FBIS, 10 December, 1991). Still other development plans under the
Eighth (1991-95) and Ninth (1996-2000) Five-Year Plans include the
expansion of the Gonggar airport, maintenance and repair of all major
highways, as well the development of tourism and border trade (Forbes &
McGranaham, 1992). In Qinghai province, the medium and small hydropower
stations have a total capacity of 103,000 kw. In 1991, Chinese central
authorities spent 34.3 million yuan to construct the Xiaogangou
hydropower station which would enlarge the province's energy capacity by
nearly 40,000 kw (Xinhua, April 6, 1992). Chinese statistics show that
during the last decade, Tibet hosted over 134,000 foreign tourists from
over 30 countries, and recorded a profit of a quarter billion yuan (FBIS,
14 May, 1991).
In terms of industrial development, Chinese documents show that over the
past 40 years, Tibet has established 40 industrial enterprises in more
than 10 trades specializing in power generating, mining, wool textile,
leather tanning, building materials, chemicals, paper making, printing
and food processing (FBIS, 16 May, 1991).
In terms of agricultural and animal husbandry, production figures for
Tibet are indeed very impressive. Thus, in 1991, 210,000 hectares were
brought under cultivation (FBIS, 9 July, 1991), on which were produced
grain and oil producing crops as well as other improved varieties of
crops...... Tibet also had 5.03 million head of livestock (FBIS, 16 July,
1991). Production targets for the coming decade include 625,000 and
725,000 tons of grain, and 112,000 and 129,000 tons of meat in 1995 and
2000 respectively (FBIS, 13 March, 1991).
Chinese reports describe Tibet as "rich in natural resources ...[with] 6
million hectares of forests" (Forbes & McGranahan, 1992). Richardson (in
Gardiner, 1992) mentions that the largest reserves of virgin forest in
China are found in the river valleys of the eastern Tibetan plateau. And
according to Xiaoqiang & Nanfeng (1991), the forest stock per capita in
the TAR is by far the highest in the world. In terms of forested area,
reports site 58.218 mu  of forested land (FBIS, 16 July, 1991). The 70
verified minerals in TAR (Forbes & McGranahan, 1992), include deposits of
uranium, borax, lithium, copper, iron, and chromite (Ksentini, 1992).
Also, Qinghai province contains large deposits of gold (Xinhua, 21 May,
The most recent efforts aimed at "promoting economic prosperity and
weakening ethnic separatism", includes opening Tibet "completely to the
outside world" (Agence France, 13 August, 1992). This decision aims to
"conscientiously emancipate our minds (sic), _change old ideas_ (emphasis
added) and accelerate economic development" (BBC, 7 August, 1992) One of
the 21-point set of guidelines for attracting foreign investment and
technology includes the ability for "foreigners to buy land use rights
and take advantage of the new economic and technical development zone in
the capital (Lhasa)" (Agence France, 13 August, 1992). Other projects in
the TAR would include 15 programs that would cost 400 million yuan,
"related to the production of medicines, cement, plastic, packaging and
decorative items, as well as the production of tourism commodities and
the construction of hotels and holiday villages (Xinhua, 9 August, 1992).
In an effort to guarantee environmental protection in the Tibetan
Autonomous Region, environmental monitoring stations have been set up
(Xinhua, 30 April, 1992). The station built in Lhasa with a grant of 3.9
million yuan from Beijing government has the "most advanced monitoring
devices and equipment ... and has become the authoritative environmental
reporting center for Tibet" (Xinhua, 5 June, 1992). Reports also point
out that the TAR is free from "radioactive contamination, acid rain and
other kinds of environmental pollution" (Xinhua, 25 May, 1992).
To ensure development of animal husbandry, improve grassland management
and prohibit the destruction of grassland, the "Grassland Law" will be
implemented in Tibet (5 February, 1991). In Tibet, various natural and
wildlife reserves are also underway, such as the Chomolungma (Qomolangma)
Nature Preserve, and the Changtang Reserve (Forbes & McGranahan, 1992).
More recently, an international seminar entitled "Development Strategy
and Ecological Balance in West China" held in Gonghe County, Qinghai
Province, discussed the need of development efforts to pay special
attention to environmental protection (FBIS, 6 September, 1991). The
participants noted that the impact of environmental conditions in west
China would not only affect the "smooth and steady development of the
area itself, but will also affect the development of east China, as well
as many southeast Asian countries" (FBIS, 20 June, 1990; 6 September,
An assessment of the environmental impacts of development in Tibet shows
that there are serious environmental consequences of the large-scale
development projects. Thus in the Yamdrok Yumtso project, the level of
the lake is projected to drop an estimated 3 cms every year once the
turbines are activated. This would not only affect local weather
conditions, but also the lake's aquatic habitat (Earthisland, 15 October,
The most distinct degradation of the massive agricultural project in the
Lhasa valley, according to Rongzu (1992) is the sand dune expansion on
the Tsangpo river uptill the hill slopes nearby as well as degraded
steppe zone appearing on mountain slopes.
The Chinese press has continued to announce record yields in both
Tibetan agriculture and animal husbandry. They report that the increase
in grain production in recent years is mainly a result of the
"application of modern science and technology," in the selection and use
of improved varieties, improved soil and the rational application of
fertilizer (FBIS, 24 December, 1991). In fact, the amount of chemical
fertilizers used in 1991 was 5,050 tons more than that used in 1990
(FBIS, 16 July, 1991).
Just as the Green Revolution, which was aimed at primarily increasing
food production in developing countries, but left in its wake "a
devastating trail of destruction, and an ecologically unsustainable mode
of agricultural production which will aggravate problems of hunger and
malnutrition in years to come" (Yapa, 1992b). In the case of Tibet too,
recent agricultural statistics affirm the dangers of chemical
fertilizers. Clarke (1987) notes that in the Tibet Autonomous Region,
grain yields dropped after 1977 as the soils were depleted from the new
types of wheat. Sun (1983) also notes that five-sixths of the total
cultivation land in the TAR is uncertain and susceptible to natural
hazards as a result of policies practiced in the 60s and 70s requiring
the cultivation of winter wheat that proved detrimental to soil
fertility. Similarly, Ksentini (1992) mentions that the total cultivated
land available per person has dropped sharply, requiring farmers to grow
new varieties of wheat and requiring them to buy and use large amounts of
fertilizers and pesticides. Rongzu (in Forbes and McGranahan, 1992) in
his study of the land use pattern in Nyemo County in the TAR, also
cautions against the use of chemical fertilizers.
Although reforestation has been given priority and Chinese academicians
argue the need to set up pilot projects, the forestry industry continues
as before (Barnett, 1990) Richardson (in Gardiner, 1992) also cautions
the unsuitability of the Tibetan plateau for forest production, "due to
its fragile and infertile state."
Most of the recent development projects in Tibet are large-scale,
top-down, and based on increased productivity (Forbes and McGranahan,
1992). These projects would certainly lead the way for Tibet's economic
take-off, and Tibet may possibly achieve its ambitious economic targets
of grain production, animal husbandry and energy production. Yet the
crucial question underpinning such development is, who benefits or will
benefit from these development projects? Also what are the long-term
effects of such development policies?
Future Environmental/Ecological Integrity of Tibet
It is not simply an accident of geography that Tibet is underdeveloped
today. Although Tibet's distinct physical terrain may limit its rapid
growth, I contend that there are more systematic factors at play in the
underdevelopment of Tibet. Chinese experts and officials, while admitting
the need to develop mountain economies, attribute low levels of
development to the `cultural backwardness' of the peoples in these
regions. Such sentiments are continuously reinforced by statements such
as: "it is not easy to spread modern technology in a region where people
are inured to primitive cultivation methods" (FBIS, 3 May, 1990).
Official Chinese reports constantly stress the conditions of Tibet prior
to 1950s as "a desolate wasteland," "a picture of dire poverty" (FBIS,
22 February, 1989) and "synonymous with poverty and ignorance in the eyes
of Chinese and foreigners..." (FBIS, 27 August, 1990). Even if Beijing's
objectives for Tibet are positive, it is not enough to look at the
policies per se, rather, it is critical to examine how those policies are
or are not being implemented, and who is benefiting from them (Forbes &
Despite impressive production statistics, Tibet continues to receive
subsidies from Beijing, receiving an appropriation of nearly 1 billion
yuan annually (FBIS, 16 July, 1991). In fact, during the past 38 years,
from 1952 to 1990, Tibet received financial allocations and
infrastructural investments amounting to nearly 17.77 billion yuan (FBIS,
5 February, 1991). However, Cannon (1989) notes that because the western
regions includes border areas with large military activity, and the
establishment of other facilities designed for the benefit of the Chinese
(Han) economy, it is not really appropriate to consider all state
transfers in support of provincial-level budgets as aiding the
development of minority areas.
Besides the direct environmental impacts of `development' in Tibet, the
more critical issues include the social and cultural impacts. Sinocentric
views of development are clear from Xiaoqiang and Nanfeng's (1991) book,
The Poverty of Plenty, in which a lack of development and cultural
(ethnic) differences are explained in terms of the "poor quality of the
inhabitants of the `backward' regions"(Knox, 1991). Similarly, "...cadres
feel like they are aid workers or missionaries - civilizing the people"
(Forbes and McGranahan, 1992). Such sentiments certainly resonate Chinese
(Han) chauvinism, and appear as if the situation is analyzed from a
Chinese (Han) colonialist perspective (Knox, 1991).
Redclift (1987) mentions that whether the people are willing or
unwilling agents in the irrecoverable destruction of the environment,
they are _resocialized_ (emphasis added) in the process, often lending
credibility by their actions to the view that development is an
inevitable, progressive process which is most successful when it is least
sustainable. In the Tibetan case too, it appears they have been
resocialized along Chinese development paths. The following statement by
a Tibetan farmer reaffirm this:
"In the 1960's it was very good to have an annual grain yield of 110
kilograms per mu (about one-fifteenth of a hectare), but this year my
family harvested 560 kilograms per mu on all fifteen mu of our land. We
select fine seeds and use chemical fertilizer and pesticide. I believe in
Buddhism and often light the butter-oil lamps in the temple. In the past
if we found harmful insects in the grain field, we dared not kill them
for fear we would offend Buddha. Now, however, we are open-minded. I
spread pesticide in order to harvest more grain. Buddha should be happy
about it." (quoted in Forbes and McGranahan, 1992)
Officials are fully aware of the impact of population increase on the
economic development of a region, and acknowledge that a large population
can have a great impact on the grassland, mineral resources and the
living environment (FBIS, 26 September, 1991) Yet they attribute
environmental problems in minority areas to the rapid growth of ethnic
populations, that has "hindered local economic development" (FBIS, 9
July, 1991). Chinese immigrants into Tibet and other minority areas
rather than being viewed as an economic pressure, are considered an asset
for these areas (FBIS, 8 April, 1991). Xiaoqiang and Nanfeng (1991) also
note that the large Chinese population would invigorate the economies of
backward regions... since they would "bring new learning and culture."
However, as Goldsmith (1985) asserts: "a growing population's impact on
the environment is not simply a function of size, but also its _level of
material consumption_ (emphasis added). To reduce the former, by
increasing the latter would be self-defeating, as it would have no effect
on the total impact."
Recent reports suggest that the Tibetan Autonomous Region is mostly free
from environmental pollution (Xinhua, 25 May, 1992). In fact, during the
Global Forum meeting at Rio de Janeiro, Zha xi (Tashi), the deputy
director of the Planning Commission of Tibet Autonomous Region claimed
that "Tibet has made great achievements in environmental protection while
developing its economy since 1970s" (Xinhua, 6 June, 1992). It would be
indeed tragic if the region which is today referred as the best in terms
of water, air and soil environmental situation (Xinhua, 25 May, 1992),
and "the third pole that has the bluest sky and cleanest water in the
world" (Xinhua, 6 June, 1992) is degraded beyond repair in the name of
progress and development. Presently there may not be many severe
environmental problems, but continuation of present development policies
would certainly result in irreversible environmental damage. It would be
indeed tragic, if in the future, the environmental problems undermine the
very basis of development in Tibet.
If in the coming years, Tibet does achieve economic development
comparable to the provinces in China, it would not necessarily mean that
it has achieved social equity. As Gore (1984) states, regional
disparities is only a spatial pattern and not a social and economic
pattern, and thus regional development would simply mean a spatial
redistribution. Such a spatial redistribution would certainly lead to
"place prosperity" but not necessarily to "people prosperity" (Gore,
Just as Redclift (1987) emphasizes an understanding and mutual respect
for different cultures, it is necessary and critical to have a sincere
appreciation for the Tibetan culture and its traditional relations to the
environment. In their study of the nomads of western Tibet, Goldstein and
Beall (1990) note that traditional pastoral system, rather than being
destructive, is sophisticated. They also emphasize that besides the need
to protect the Changtang area, it is equally important to protect the
nomadic pastoralists who reside there. Thus Goldstein and Beall (1990)
"it would be indeed tragic if after surviving the destructive Cultural
Revolution, these nomads' way of life is destroyed by modern notions of
"conservation" and "development" that are based on faulty evidence, and
In the pursuit of modernization and economic development, China should
realize that the minority regions including Tibet, have different
economic systems, with different conceptions of resources, land and
social organization (Cannon, 1989). Unless, China recognizes the
relevance of traditional Tibetan economic and environmental relations,
and incorporates indigenous Tibetan agricultural and pastoral practices
in Tibet's development policies, environmental problems will be rampant
on the plateau in the coming decades.
1. Tibet incorporates not only the Tibet (Xizang) Autonomous Region but
also areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces where Tibetan
2. Development does not refer only to material and economic well-being,
but must also include social, political and cultural dimensions of
3. Chinese documents refer only to Tibet (Xizang) Autonomous Region
4. approximately 5 yuan = 1 US dollar
5. Only Denny's study concludes that economic reforms of the 1980s did
not increase the gap between the economic performances of the different
provinces, rather the regional disparities that had previously occurred
6. 15 mu = 1 hectare
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----- Agence France, 1992, "Tibet announces 'all-round' opening to
outside world," 13 August.
----- BBC, 1992, "Tibet to accelerate pace of reform," 7 August.
----- Earthisland, 1991, "China's hydroelectric development," 15
----- FBIS, 1989, "Academy scientist warns about ecological crisis," 16
----- FBIS, 1989, "Rebirth of the Tibetan Nationality- Commemorating the
30th anniversary of democratic reform carried out in Tibet," 22 February.
----- FBIS, 1989, "Environmental protection petition submitted," 23
----- FBIS, 1989, "Li Peng speech on environmental protection," 11 May.
----- FBIS, 1990, "Bureau Director notes environmental improvements," 15
----- FBIS, 1990, "Seminar tackles environment problems," 20 February.
----- FBIS, 1990, "Tibet focuses efforts on economic development," 9
----- FBIS, 1990, "Han college graduate helps Tibetan farmers," 3 May.
----- FBIS, 1990, "Article reviews environment problems," 20 June.
----- FBIS, 1990, "Tibet experiences balanced development," 27 August.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Lhasa TV Review Tibetan Development," 5 February.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Tibet handles Deputies' Three Proposals," 5 February.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Reporters briefed on Tibet's Development Plans," 13
----- FBIS, 1991, "Inland Chinese Contribute to Tibet's Development," 8
----- FBIS, 1991, "Journal on State Assistance to Tibet," 26 April.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Achievements seen in Tibet's economic construction,"
----- FBIS, 1991, "Report on land problems focuses on ecology," 1 July.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Tibet benefits from Regional economic development," 3
----- FBIS, 1991, "Social Scientist on Increase in Ethnic Population," 9
----- FBIS, 1991, "Renmin Rubao commentator, 'prevention takes first
place in soil, water conservation," 9 July.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Mao Rubai Speech," 16 July.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Central Government to give Tibet Greater Autonomy,"
----- FBIS, 1991, "Comprehensive Development Projects in Tibet," 16
----- FBIS, 1991, "Science Commission addresses ecological issues," 30
----- FBIS, 1991, "Experts discuss Environmental Protection," 6
----- FBIS, 1991, "Officials on Environmental Burden," 26 September.
----- FBIS, 1991, "Key Economic Projects proceeding well in Tibet," 10
----- FBIS, 1991, "Tibet Harvest Benefit from Modern Science," 24
----- Xinhua, 1992, "Qinghai develops medium, small hydropower
stations," 6 April.
----- Xinhua, 1992, "An Environmental monitoring center built in Tibet,"
----- Xinhua, 1992, "Qinghai Province rich in gold deposits," 21 May.
----- Xinhua, 1992, "Tibet free from radioactive contamination, acid
rain," 25 May.
----- Xinhua, 1992, "Environmental monitoring station in Tibet," 5 June.
----- Xinhua, 1992, "Tibetan official on Tibet's environment in Rio," 6
----- Xinhua, 1992, "Tibet institutes programs to absorb investment," 9