Offices of Tibet
The Offices of Tibet are the official agencies of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamshala, North India.
(Updated as of 11th March 2012)
A Brief Summary of the Status of Tibet
The history of Sino-Tibetan relations commenced at the beginning of the Seventh Century when the King of Tibet Song Tsen Gampo, annexed Eastern China and compelled the Chinese Emperor to sue for peace and to give in marriage one of the royal princesses. This period was characterised by relations on a footing of equality and reciprocity. The treaty concluded at the beginning of the following Century, inscribed on a stone pillar in front of Central Cathedral of Lhasa, bears witness to this relationship. Another historical pillar at the foot of the PotalaPalace of the Dali Lama describes in detail the conquests of the Tibetan armies in Western China during the second half of the Eighth Century.
In 1652, the Fifth Dalai Lama visited Peking. He went as an independent sovereign to visit the Manchu Emperor and as a result of this visit, a relation of priest and disciple sprang-up. And in 1720, two Chinese Ambans or diplomatic representatives were allowed to stay in Lhasa. The Chinese sources have sought to interpret the fact that the two Ambans had been stationed in Lhasa as an emblem of Chinese authority over Tibet. But, Desideri, who lived in Lhasa for five years from 1716, thus describes the situation: “The Grand Lama of Tibet….is recognised and revered not only by the Tibetans of the second and third Tibet, but also by the Nepalese, the Tartars and the Chinese; he is worshipped and offerings are made to him….he reigns over the religious and temporal affairs, because he is absolute master of the whole of Tibet……The Emperors of China have demonstrated their profound respect for him….often they have sent ambassadors with presents.”
The opinion expressed by Huc and Gabet, two Lazarist missionaries who were in Lhasa in 1846, lends support to this interpretation of the relation between the Emperors of China and the Dalai Lama. According to these missionaries, the Government of Tibet resembles that of the Vatican and the position occupied by the Chinese ambassadors was the same as that of the Austrian Ambassador in Rome.
The Chinese are adept at pretending that the slightest connection with any foreign power makes such foreign power a vassal of the Chinese. It is well known that when Queen Victoria of England and the Pope sent ambassadors to China, the Chinese Emperor thanked the ambassadors for the presents sent by his vassals. It is possible that when the British power was established in India, the Chinese made the British believe that Tibet was a part of China and the presence of the Ambans may have made them believe that such was the case. In 1876, the British entered into treaty with the Chinese whereby the Chinese Government agreed to make the necessary arrangements for a British Mission of Exploration to visit Tibet. Tibet, however, refused to recognise this treaty and in 1886, the projected mission to Tibet was abandoned by the British. However, Britain continued to deal with China.
Shortly after the abandonment of 1886 Mission, Tibetan troops erected a fortress across the trade road, which the British regarded as inside the border of Sikkim, a British protectorate. The British protested to the Chinese but in vain and ultimately in May 1888, the Tibetan force retreated before a superior British military force. Inspite of this, the British continued to hug the illusion of Chinese authority over Tibet and in 1890 entered into a treaty with China, inter-alia, demarcating the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet and recognizing British authority over Sikkim. This treaty also had provisions for trade between India and Tibet and in 1893 a further convention called the Tibet Trade agreement was signed. When Tibet refused to recognise either of these, the British protested to the Chinese, but the latter were in no position to do anything about it. Ultimately, in 1903 the British sent a military expedition into Tibet, which, after defeating the small Tibetan army, signed the Lhasa Convention in 1904. The parties to this Convention were the British Government and the Government of Tibet. Article IX of the Convention reads:
“IX. The Government of Tibet engages that, without the previous consent of the British Government-
(a) no portion of the Tibetan territory shall be ceded, sold, leased, mortgaged or otherwise given for occupation, to any foreign power;
(b) no such power shall be permitted to intervene in Tibetan affairs;
(c) no representative or agents of any foreign power shall be admitted to Tibet;
(d) no concessions for railways, roads, telegraphs, mining, or other rights shall granted to any foreign power, or the subject of any foreign power. In the event of consent to such concessions shall be granted to the British Government;
(e) no Tibetan revenues, whether in kind or in cash, shall be pledged or assigned to any foreign power, or to the subject of any foreign power.”
It may be noted that in Article IX more than once the words “foreign power” have been employed. The use of these words clearly shows that China, among others, was treated as a foreign power.
It may also be noted that the Chinese Amban was in Lhasa, but not a word of protest came from him or the Chinese Government for violating what they claimed to be, part of their territory. On the contrary, China accepted the provisions of the Convention under the Peking Convention of 1906.
Describing the Chinese claim of suzerainty over Tibet, Lord Curzon the then Viceroy of India in 1903 said:
“Chinese suzerainty over Tibet is constitutional fiction- a political affection which has only maintained because of its convenience to both parties.”
In 1906, the British threw a small crumb out of the concessions they had got from Tibet in 1904. The Preamble makes very interesting reading.
“And whereas the refusal of Tibet to recognise the validity of or to carry into full effect the provisions of the Anglo-Chinese Convention of March 17, 1890 and Regulations of December 5,
1893, placed the British Government under the necessity of taking steps to secure their rights and interest under the said Convention and Regulations”.
Articles I then goes on to confirm the Convent ion of 1904. By Article II, Great Britain engages not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet and the Government of China undertakes not to permit any other foreign State to interfere with the territory or internal administration of Tibet.
Then follows Article III: “The Concessions which are mentioned in Article IX (d) of the Convention concluded on September 7, 1904 by Great Britain and Tibet are denied to any state or to the subjects of any State other than China, but it has been arranged with China that at the trade marks specified in Article II of the aforesaid Convention Great Britain shall be entitled to lay down telegraph lines connecting with India.”
The preamble to this Convention as quoted above shows that the Chinese Government was not objecting to the British invasion of 1904 but accepted it without demur.
It may be mentioned that not only Britain but Russia was hoping to establish some kind of influence in Tibet. In order to allay the suspicion, which might have been aroused by the Lhasa Convention of 1904 in the minds of the Russians, Britain and Russia signed a Convention in 1907. The high Contracting Parties say that both of them would engage themselves to respect the territorial integrity of Tibet and to abstain from any interference in its internal administration. They also recognised the suzerainty of China over Tibet and agreed not to deal with Tibet excepting through the Government of China.
It may be mentioned that this Convention had similar clauses regarding Afghanistan and Persia, both as independent as Tibet. Neither Afghanistan nor Persia, nor Tibet was a party of this Convention, not even the Chinese. This convention is an example of European diplomacy of the time when the big powers, behind the backs of those concerned, tried to carve out spheres of influence.
It is probably on this Convention that the Chinese claim for suzerainty rests.
This is the only document on which the Chinese right to suzerainty has been mentioned.
In 1908 Britain and China entered into a Tibet Trade Regulation which was a consequence of the 1906 Agreement.
The Chinese then realized that the British were only interested in trade and that if they attempted to conquer Tibet by force, the British would not intervene. Thus, for the first time, an expedition of conquest was launched in 1910. But in 1911, the Manchu Emperors were overthrown and the 1911 Chinese Revolution began. The Tibetans besieged the Amban and the few Chinese troops in Tibet and expelled them from Tibet.
And in 1912 the Dalai Lama issued a proclamation of Tibetan independence.
It should be noted in this connection that Bulgaria which was under the suzerainty of the Turkish Empire, made a similar declaration in 1908 denouncing the Turkish rights of suzerainty. Although Turkish suzerainty was accepted by the concert of Europe under the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, nevertheless, the unilateral declaration made by Bulgaria was accepted by the community of nations. The declaration made by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was similar in character and had the same effect in the eyes of international law even on the assumption that the Chinese had some vague and undefined authority over Tibet.
Although Lord Curzon had, in 1903, said that Chinese suzerainty over Tibet is a constitutional fiction, the British for reasons of their own, mainly for securing peace on their northern frontier, wanted to keep up this fiction, if possible. Although Tibet had declared complete independence, there was the question of boundary between Tibet and China which in the past had been a source of armed conflict between Tibet and China.
In 1913 the British invited the Plenipotentiaries of Tibet and China at a tripartite conference. The British were hoping that if the Tibetans were willing to accept nominal suzerainty of China over Tibet, the Chinese may be induced to settle the question of frontiers between themselves and Tibet. In April 1914, a draft Convention was initialled by all the parties, Tibet agreeing to a nominal suzerainty and the Chinese agreeing to the frontiers as desired by Tibet. However, the Chinese Government repudiated the agreement and finally it was signed by Tibet and Britain, with the following declaration:
"We, the Plenipotentiaries of Great Britain and Tibet, hereby record the following declaration to the effect that we acknowledge the annexed Convention as initialled to be binding on the Government of Great Britain and Tibet, and we agree that so long as the Government of China withholds signature to the aforesaid Convention she will be debarred from the enjoyment of all privileges accruing therefrom.
“In token whereof we have signed and sealed the declaration, two copies in English and two in Tibetan.
“Done at Simla this 3rd day of July A.D 1914 corresponding with the Tibetan date the 10th day of the 5th month of the Wood-Tiger year”.
The refusal of China to sign the Simla convention reverted the position of China vis-a –vis Tibet back to the position of 1912, when the Thirteenth Dali Lama proclaimed the independence of Tibet.
It may be noted that by this Treaty, the agreement with the Chinese in 1906 as well as the Tibet Trade Agreement of 1908 were abrogated. It must also be remembered that by this convention the boundaries between Tibet and British India and Burma were agreed upon by accepting what is known as the McMahon line as the frontier. This agreement was between Tibet and India although the Chinese delegate was kept informed and he initialed the relevant map. The Chinese refusal to endorse the agreement arrived at by their delegate was based entirely on the demarcation of the boundary between Tibet and China.
This was the second treaty between Tibet and Britain. Even earlier, Tibet had signed a treaty with Nepal in 1856. In 1917 there was a war between china and Tibet, in which China suffered a crushing defeat. In 1928, the Government of China invited Tibet to join the Chinese republic. This invitation was ignored and in 1931, china unilaterally declared Tibet to be province of China. Soon hostilities occurred in 1931 and 1932, when the Chinese tried to assert their authority over some territories in Eastern Tibet. In this they failed. In 1936 on the Long March, the Communists tried to pass through Tibetan territory and they were thrown out.
During the Second World War when China was an ally of Britain and the United States, President Roosevelt, sent personal representatives to the Dalai Lama with request that the war materials may be allowed to pass through Tibet to china, Tibet did not agree to this but agreed to permit the transit of such goods as were not war material.
In 1947 when Mr. Nehru convened an Asian Conference, representatives of Tibet attended and the flag of Tibet was flown on that occasion. The Tibetan delegation later went to various countries including Britain and the United States on Tibetan passports.
Thus from 1911 till 1949 when the communist Chinese invaded Tibet, there was not even a vestige of Chinese authority in Tibet. And on the eve of the Chinese invasion of 1950 Tibet was a completely independent state satisfying all the four basic requirements of statehood, viz. there must be a people, a territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states of the world.
This fact is amply evidenced by contemporary observers in Tibet itself. On the earlier period, Sir Charles Bell and Sir Eric Teichmann speak with authority. In Affairs of China (1938) Sir Eric Teichmann wrote: “Since (1912) no vestige of Chinese authority has survived or reappeared in Lhasa-ruled Tibet.” Tsung-lien and Shen-chi Liu recount that “Since 1911 Lhasa (meaning in the context Tibet) has to all practical purpose enjoyed full independence”’ Mr. A Ammaury de Riencourt was in Lhasa in 1947 and has stated, “Tibet ruled itself in all respects as as independent nation”. At the time he was there, “the Government’s writ ran everywhere. People were law abiding, peace and order reigned in Tibet”.
Further, Tibet had its own currency and customs, its own telegraph and postal service, and its own civil service different from that of China, and its own army. Mr. H. E. Richardson, who, as Officer-in charge of the British and later Indian Mission in Lhasa and also Trade Agent on Gyangtse, was resident in Tibet from 1936-40 and 1946-50, has stated that “until the Communist invasion of 1950 Tibet enjoyed full de facto independence from Chinese control”. Henreich Harrer and Robert Ford who were employed by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government respectively, report no Chinese authority in Tibet whilst they were there prior to the invasion.
The sovereign status during the period of 1912 to 1950 finds conclusive evidence in the fact that the Government of Tibet concluded as many as four international agreements immediately before and during these years. The first was the treaty of 1856 between Tibet and Nepal which bound the Government of Nepal to render assistance to the Government of Tibet in the even of invasion of Tibet by a foreign Power. The second treaty was signed between Mongolia and Tibet in 1913. This treaty recognized the independence and sovereignty of the two contracting States. The third was the Lhasa Convention of 1904 between the British Government and the Government of Tibet. This Convention expressly speaks of “the relations of friendship and good understanding which have existed between the British Government and the Government of Tibet”. This was indeed a clear recognition of the sovereign status of Tibet. Under this Convention, the Government of Tibet engaged that without previous consent of the British Government no foreign power would be permitted to intervene in Tibetan affairs, and that no representative of any foreign power would be admitted into Tibet. This provision was applicable to China as well as to other foreign powers. The fourth international treaty signed by Tibet is the Simla convention of 1914 between Britain and Tibet. The signing of this Convention, and simultaneous Anglo-Tibetan declaration meant not only that Tibet was conducting her own foreign relations but also that another State, viz. Great Britain was prepared to regard her as capable of incurring international obligations. Sitting around the conference table with a Tibetan plenipotentiary is in itself sufficient indication of this. The credentials of the Tibetan plenipotentiary “with the right to decide all matters that may be beneficial to Tibet” were accepted as in order by the Chinese plenipotentiary. The credentials of the British representative confirmed that all the three representatives were of equal status, and that the conference was meeting “to regulate the relations between the several governments.”
Further, during the Sino-Japanese war of 1936-43, Tibet observed strict neutrality. Normally a suzerain’s war is the war of the ‘vassal’ state. Such was not the case here.
Similarly during the World War II, the question arose of transporting war material to China through Tibet, notwithstanding the request of Britain and America to permit this, the Government of Tibet adamantly refused permission. The only goods permitted to be transported through the territory of Tibet were non-military goods. And on 7th August, 1942 the Head of the Far Eastern Department of the British Foreign Office wrote to the counselor of the American Embassy in London that:
“In fact the Tibetans not only claim to be, but actually are an independent people, and they have in recent years fought successfully to maintain their freedom against Chinese attempts at domination. Their distinct racial, political, religious and linguistic characteristics would seem to entitle them, therefore, to the benefit of …… the memorandum.”
In 1947, a few months before the independence of India, a Tibetan Delegation participated as representatives of an independent country at the Asia Conference held in New Delhi and at the Conference, the national flag of Tibet was flown. For years prior to 1950, whenever occasion arose, the Tibetan Government dealt directly with such countries. Even the mission, sent by the president of United States during the War with a personal message from President Roosevelt, dated July 3, 1942 referred to as the American Mission dealt with the Tibetan Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Richardson, who was Consul General representing the British Indian Government in Lhasa a few years prior to 1947 and 3 years after 1947 as representing the Indian Government, has clearly stated that the British and later the Indian Government were dealing directly with the Tibetan authorities.
In 1948, a Tibetan Trade Mission led by the Tibetan Finance Minister traveled with its passport issued by the Government of Tibet, which was accepted as a valid document by the Government of India, Pakistan, Iran, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and the united States etc. This is clear international recognition if such is needed of the independent status of Tibet.
A very striking evidence of Tibetan independence is given in July 1949, when the Tibetan Government asked the whole of the Chinese official Mission at Lhasa and some Chinese traders to leave Tibet.
A further point of some considerable importance is that Chinese mission to Lhasa usually preferred not to proceed overland from China, and were thus compelled to proceed via India and required a transit visa from the British authorities. Mr. Richardson informed the Legal Inquiry Committee on Tibet that such applications were granted or fused according to the wishes of the Tibetan Government.
The Legal Inquiry Committee on Tibet state in their report that the relations between Great Britain, India and Tibet from 1913 to 1950 lead to the conclusion that the practice of the two former countries was to dealt with Tibet as an independent state.
The foregoing facts clearly show that on the eve of the Chinese invasion of 1949, Tibet was in fact a completely independent State.
Issues Facing Tibet* Today
Invaded by China in 1949, the independent country of Tibet was forced to face the direct loss of life that comes from military invasion and, soon after, the loss of universal freedoms that stemmed from Communist ideology and its programmes such as the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). However, it is erroneous to believe that the worst has passed. The fate of Tibet’s unique national, cultural and religious identity is seriously threatened and manipulated by the Chinese.
China’s policy of occupation and oppression has resulted in no more or less than the destruction of Tibet’s national independence, culture and religion, environment and the universal human rights of its people. Time and time again, the infliction of this destruction sees China break international laws with impunity.
With a written history of more than 2,000 years, Tibet existed as an independent sovereign state prior to Chinese rule. But having no representation in the United Nations, the world largely stood by and allowed China’s occupation and destruction to happen.
Tibetans in Tibet have repeatedly staged demonstrations in favour of independence from China. The Tibetan struggle has been non-violent in nature. Yet when Tibetan children as young as ten years old whisper the words “Tibet is independent” or “Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama”, the Chinese accuse them of trying to “split” the “motherland” and often sentence them to imprisonment. Possessing an image of the Tibetan national flag can lead to a seven-year jail term. There are today 116 known political prisoners (TCHRD, Annual Report 2006) in Chinese prisons and detention centres across the Tibetan plateau. 51 of them, which constitutes 43.95% of the total given above, are serving 10 or more years of prison terms on account of their political, religious or nationalistic views.
Culture and Religion
China’s relentless destruction of religion in Tibet saw the demise of over 6,000 monasteries and countless religious artefacts. Even today, China see the Tibetan religion and culture as the main threat to the leadership of the Communist Party. China’s Third Work Forum on Tibet in 1994 and the Fourth Work Forum in 2001 have called for an array of measures to wipe out the vestige of Tibetan religion.
Denouncing Tibet’s Spiritual Leaders
Forced to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama recognised by him, Tibetans must pledge their allegiance to the Chinese government. Failure to do so can result in imprisonment or other forms of punishment. Possessing an image of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is today illegal in Tibet.
Since May 2005 Beijing has stepped up its efforts to attack the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by declaring a “fight to the death” struggle against him. Many describe this new round of vituperative campaign against the Tibetan spiritual leader as a throwback to the era of the Cultural Revolution.
In July 2007 a new regulation was introduced, according to which all incarnate lamas or tulkus must have state approval. As well as usurping the power to recognise the Tibetan spiritual figures, Beijing hopes - through the implementation of this regulation - to rule the land and people of Tibet through state-sponsored lamas or tulkus.
The continued population transfer of Chinese to Tibet in recent years has seen the Tibetans become a minority in their own land. Today the six million Tibetans are vastly outnumbered by Chinese immigrants, who are given preferential treatment in education, jobs and private enterprises. Tibetans, on the other hand, are treated as second-class citizens in their own country.
Under the guise of economic and social development, Beijing encourages the migration of Chinese population to Tibet, marginalising the Tibetans in economic, educational, political and social spheres.
The railway line between Gormo and Lhasa, which was officially opened in July 2006, has given further impetus to this vicious policy of flooding Tibet with Chinese migrants, and thus making it demographically impossible for the Tibetans to rise up as in the case of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. It is estimated that the railway brings some 5,000 to 6,000 Chinese to Lhasa everyday. Out of these, 2,000 to 3,000 return to their homes in China and the rest of them settle in Tibet indefinitely. If this trend continues unabated, it will not be long before what many perceive as Beijing’s “final solution” to the question of Tibet will have achieved its desired goal.
Chinese occupation of Tibet has seen the Tibetan language surpassed by that of the Chinese. The government is repressing Tibetan culture by making the language redundant in all sectors. Tibet’s education system, controlled entirely by the Chinese and their Communist ideology, is geared to suit the needs of Chinese immigrants. Tibetan students also suffer from prohibitive and discriminatory fees and inadequate facilities in rural areas.
The deprival of meaningful education in their own homeland has forced well over 10,000 Tibetan children and youths to escape to India, where the exile Tibetan community offers them educational opportunities unimaginable in Tibet. The records of the Tibetan Reception Centre in Dharamsala reveal that from 1991 to June 2004, the Centre had hosted a total of 43,634 new arrivals from Tibet. Out of these, 59.75% were found to be children (below the age of 13) and youths (between the age of 13 and 25). In 2006 alone, some 2,445 newly-arrived Tibetans were received at the Centre, majority of them being children below 18 years of age. The sole purpose of such a large number of young Tibetans fleeing their homeland - and more often than not negotiating a treacherous journey across the Himalayas - is to obtain a decent religious and secular education in a country far away from home.
In monasteries, Chinese government “work teams” are being sent to forcibly “re-educate” monks and nuns in their political and religious beliefs. Their methods are similar to those imposed during the Cultural Revolution. The “strike hard” campaign between 1996 and 1998 saw 492 monks and nuns arrested and 9,997 expelled from their religious institutions.
Zhang Qingli’s arrival at the helm in the “TAR” in May 2006 led to the scope of the “patriotic re-education” campaign being expanded from the confines of the monasteries and nunneries to encompass the wider population in Tibet, including schools. The main thrust of this campaign is to re-orient the Tibetan people’s religious faith and belief by requiring to pledge their opposition to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Universal Human Rights
By the end of 1998, the People’s Republic of China had signed the three covenants comprising the International Bill of Rights, but it is still far from implementing these domestically and in Tibet. Individual and collective rights abuses continue to challenge the Tibetan people and the future survival of their unique cultural identity.
A case in point is the Nangpa La shooting incident of 30 September 2006 - which claimed two Tibetan lives and the arrest of some 30 Tibetans, including 14 children. Not only does this incident show the height of human rights violations taking place in Tibet, but also the impunity with which the Chinese border police commit these rights abuses. Following this tragedy, the Public Security Bureaus (PSBs) in the “TAR” have been instructed to curb illegal crossings during the first half of 2007, calling it a part of their “strike hard” campaign against splittism to ensure stability in the region. As a result, border patrolling has been strengthened and stringent methods are employed to prevent any Tibetan from escaping repression.
The Central Tibetan Administration solemnly maintains that the Chinese government’s treatment of Tibetans in Tibet is in breach of the rights to life, liberty and security and the freedom of expression, religion, culture and education. Today, in Tibet:
- Any expression of opinion contrary to Chinese Communist Party ideology can result in arrest;
- The Chinese government has systematically covered religious institutions in an attempt to eradicate allegiance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibetan nationalism and any dissention;
- Tibetans are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention;
- Those imprisoned are often denied legal representation and Chinese legal proceedings fail to meet international standards;
- Torture still prevails in Chinese prisons and detention centres despite it being in contravention of the United Nations Convention Against Torture;
- Due to subsistence difficulties, inadequate facilities and discriminatory measures, many Tibetan children are denied access to adequate healthcare and schooling;
- The rate of imprisonment for political reasons is far greater than in other areas under Chinese rule;
- Children are not exempt from China’s repression of freedom of expression. There are Tibetan political prisoners below the age of 18, and child monks and nuns are consistently dismissed from their religious institutions;
- Enforced disappearances, where a person is taken into custody and the details of his detention are not disclosed, continue to occur;
- Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognised by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, has been missing since 1995;
- More than 70 percent of Tibetans in Tibet now live below the poverty line;
- Thousands of Tibetans continue to flee their homeland in pursuit of freedom, livelihood, and education in the exile community, where the Indian government gives facilities that the Chinese government cannot even think of, much less provide.
Continual international pressure is essential in encouraging the Chinese government to abide by the regulations of the covenants of human rights.
Situated at the heart of Asia, Tibet is one of the most environmentally strategic and sensitive regions in the world. Tibetans live in harmony with nature, guided by their Buddhist belief in the interdependence of both living and non-living elements of the earth. However, with the invasion of Tibet, the materialistic Chinese Communist ideology trampled upon this nature-friendly attitude of the Tibetan people.
The past 50 years has seen widespread environmental destruction resulting in deforestation, soil erosion, extinction of wildlife, overgrazing, uncontrolled mining and nuclear waste dumping. Today, the Chinese continue to extract various natural resources - often with foreign backing - without any environmental safeguards and consequently Tibet is facing an environmental crisis, the ramifications of which are felt far beyond its borders.
Tibet boasts some of the finest quality forest reserves in the world. Having taken hundreds of years to grow, many trees stand 90 feet high with a girth of 5 feet or more. China’s “development” and “modernisation” plans for Tibet are seeing these forest indiscriminately destroyed. In 1959, 25.2 million hectares of forest were found in Tibet, but in 1985 the Chinese had reduced forest-cover to 13.57 million hectares. Over 46 percent of Tibet’s forest has been destroyed and in some areas this figure is as high as 80 percent. Between 1959 and 1985, the Chinese removed US$ 54 billion worth of timber from Tibet. Deforestation, and inadequate reforestation programmes, has a profound effect on wildlife and leads to soil erosion and floods in the neighbouring countries, including China itself.
Soil Erosion and Flooding
Massive deforestation, mining and intensified agriculture patterns in Tibet have led to increased soil erosion and the siltation of some of Asia’s most important rivers. Siltation of the Mekong, Yangtse, Indus, Salween and Yellow rivers cause major floods such as those Asia has experienced in recent years. This in turn causes landslides and reduces potential farming land, thus affecting half the world population which lives downstream from Tibet.
Global Climate Effects
Scientists have observed a correlation between natural vegetation on the Tibetan Plateau and the stability of the monsoon, which is indispensible to the bread-baskets of South Asia. Scientists have also shown that the environment of the Tibetan Plateau affects jet-streams which are related to the cause of Pacific typhoons and the El Nino phenomenon, which has had adverse environmental effects world-wide.
Extinction of Wildlife
In 1901, His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama issued a decree banning the hunting of wild animals in Tibet. Unfortunately, the Chinese have not enforced similar restrictions and instead the “trophy-hunting” of endangered species has been actively encouraged. There are at least 81 endangered species on the Tibetan Plateau of which 39 are mammals, 37 birds, four amphibians and one reptile.
Extraction of borax, chromium, copper, gold, and uranium is being vigorously carried out by the Chinese government as a means of providing raw materials for industrial growth. Seven of China’s 15 key minerals are expected to run out within a decade and consequently the extraction of minerals in Tibet is increasing in rapid and unregulated manner.
The new railway line to Lhasa is expected to provide easier means of exploitation of Tibet’s enormous natural resources. A survey conducted by the China Geological Survey (CGS), an agency responsible for mineral exploration under the Ministry of Land and Resources, reveals that their geologists have discovered 600 new sites of copper, iron, lead and zinc ore deposits along the route of this railway line. The survey further states that if these were exploited, it could meet China’s demands for mineral resources. Zhuang Yuxun, director of the CGS’s Department of Geological Investigation, has indicated that “the new supply [of these resources] can come to the market in two to three years”, as “the locations of the newly-discovered reserves are close to the ‘Qinghai-Tibet’ railway”.
Increased mining activities further reduces vegetation cover and thereby increases the danger for severe landslides, massive soil erosion, loss of wildlife habitat and the pollution of streams and rivers.
Nuclear Waste Dumping
Once a peaceful buffer state between India and China, Tibet has been militarised to the point of holding at least 500,000 Chinese troops and up to one quarter of China’s nuclear missile arsenal. The Chinese brought their first nuclear weapon onto the Tibetan Plateau in 1971. Today, it appears that the Chinese are using Tibet as a dumping ground for their and foreign nuclear waste. In 1984, China Nuclear Industry Co-operation offered western countries nuclear waste disposal facilities at US$ 1,500 per kilogram.
Mysterious deaths of Tibetans and livestock residing close to China’s nuclear sites have been reported, as too have increases in cancer and birth defects. In addition, there has been incidences of waterway contamination where the local Chinese population were officially warned against using the water but the local Tibetans were not. China continues to control the Tibetan Plateau without any regard for its fragile ecology or for the rightful inhabitants of the land.
*The term TIBET here means the whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo). It includes the present-day Chinese administrative areas of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, two Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and one Tibetan Autonomous County in Sichuan Province, one Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and one Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu Province and one Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.
# Information for this leaflet has been sourced from DIIR’s Environment and Development Desk and from the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).
A Brief Introduction to Tibet
Invaded by China in 1949-50, the independent country of Tibet was forced to face the direct loss of life that comes from battles and, soon after, the loss of universal freedoms that stemmed from Communist ideology and its programs such as the Cultural Revolution (1967 - 1976). However, it is erroneous to believe that the worst has passed. The fate of Tibet's unique national, cultural and religious identity is today seriously threatened and manipulated by the Chinese.
China's policy of occupation and oppression has resulted in no more or less than the destruction of Tibet's national independence, culture and religion, environment, and the universal human rights of its people. China has broken international laws and routinely violates its own constitution by inflicting this destruction, yet time and again goes without punishment.
With a written history of more than 2000 years, Tibet existed as an independent sovereign state prior to Chinese rule. As recently as 1914, a peace convention was signed by Britain, China and Tibet that again formally recognised Tibet as a fully independent country. But having no representation in the United Nations, the world largely stood by and allowed China's occupation and destruction to happen.
Tibetans have demonstrated repeatedly for independence from China. Ours has been a non-violent struggle, yet even when Tibetan children as young as ten whisper the words "Tibet is independent" or "Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama", the Chinese accuse them of trying to "split" the "motherland" and often sentence them to prison. Possessing an image of the Tibetan national flag can lead to a seven- year jail term. As of 1998, 1083 known Tibetans remain incarcerated in Chinese prisons on account of their political, religious or ethical views. Of these, 246 were women and 12 were juvenile.