Mining Tibet, Poisoning China

At The Asian Review of Books, the University of Sydney’s Kerry Brown reviews Gabriel Lafitte’s forthcoming book, Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World, available October 8th:

A few years ago, I was seated next to a professor of geology at Oxford University. We broached the subject of China’s resource assets. “China has very little that is easily exploitable,” he said. I asked about energy resources in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. He nodded, thought for a bit and then said “Well, but they are hard to get too, and at the moment and the Chinese do not have affordable technology that could do that. Same with Tibet. Everyone thinks it is overflowing with precious metals and all the rest; but it would be very hard to get access to them.”

[…] Only a lingering residue of Maoist hubris towards nature would allow people to think that this would be feasible with current technology. Describing the 2010 high-level work meetings in Beijing on managing the Tibetan Autonomous Region, however, Lafitte shows how this hubris creeps into central government thinking. Tibet, to them, is an area that has to be tamed with intense road and rail building programs and the same mass urbanization projects that are sweeping the rest of the country. [Source]

Brown argues that “despoiling the Tibetan region […] would be a disaster for the rest of China,” pointing out that the country’s great but already strained rivers originate there. “Polluting these at their source or close to it,” he writes, “would in effect be poisoning the rest of China.” Resource exploitation in Tibet is already tainting local water supplies according to an April blog post by Tibetan writer Woeser at Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service. Woeser focused on the mine near Lhasa where 83 people had died in a landslide that Lafitte and others attribute to the mine itself. From a new translation at High Peaks Pure Earth:

[…] As the scholar Shakabpa Wangchuk Deden wrote in the introduction to his master work “Tibet’s Political History” when he introduced Tibet’s natural environment, Tibet’s mineral resources have been referred to in popular folk sayings as mineral resources that are property of the demon, it was also said that mining activities will infuriate the demon, bringing about drought, landslides, earthquakes, spreading epidemics and causing chaotic famine. Tibetans believed that people are allowed to know where one can find what kinds of minerals, but as soon as one starts to exploit these resources, it will be like drinking expensive tea and wine in periods of wealth, the world will soon be corrupted and stripped off by taxes.

[…] Mining in the open, piling up mining waste in the open, what will the result be? The river running from the top of the snow mountain through Gyama county is called Gyama Zhungchu, originally, this was the only water source for local herdsmen, not only used for drinking water but also for irrigation and to feed livestock. But in recent years, the local people have not dared to drink this water, they have been going to fetch water from a different mountain quite far away. Last year I even heard that this once so clean and pure river water turns white like milk from time to time with foam floating on its top. A village cadre wrote on Weibo: “I have been stationed in this village, one cannot drink the river water…” Yet, for the mining area there is a special vehicle that drives to the county seat to fetch drinking water every day, so they don’t need to worry. [Source]