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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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.




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 
(Guimaraes, 1991). 

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 [2] 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 [3] 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 [4] 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[5]; 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 [6] 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 & 
McGranahan, 1992).      

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 
flawed assumptions." 

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 
populations exist.

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 
were narrowed.

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," 
16 May. 

----- 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," 
16 July.

----- 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," 
30 April.

----- 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