One of the greatest threats to Tibetan people, culture, and environment is the massive influx of Chinese civilians and military personnel
into Tibet, especially through population transfer programmes.
According to Sir Hugh E. Richardson, the last British and Indian
Head of Mission in Lhasa there were no Chinese in Tibet except for
a few traders and some Muslim butchers at Lhasa. A small party
managed to get into Tibet in 1935, regarded by the Tibetans as an
unofficial liaison office; and in 1949 they were expelled by the Tibetan
Government.7 However, today their population has skyrocketed
and Chinese in Lhasa outnumber Tibetans.
Based on China’s official statistics, the total population of Tibet
was 10 million in 2000, and these statistics, as many international
observers have pointed out, chronically underestimate military personnel
and the large unregistered floating population of displaced Chinese
peasants seeking work. Population explosion in Tibet has its impact
on Tibet’s fragile ecology and its many species of plant and animal.
The fast diminishing habitat of the panda and other endangered
wildlife is a clear indication of the pressure on the entire plateau.
The most fundamental impact is that the Tibetan Plateau must
now sustain a growing human population. Beijing’s solution is to pour
in more subsidies and enforce extensive urbanisation. Other areas of
China that receive China’s internal migrant inflow, including the major
cities, maintain regulatory control on immigrant populations, but there
is no such control exercised in the nominally autonomous Tibetan
areas. No calculation has ever been made as to how many human
beings the plateau can sustain, without degradation and overload.
A coherent population policy is much needed, especially as the
migrant influx expects to consume at levels comparable to urban
Chinese populations elsewhere. Because control over the plateau is
fragmented among five provinces, there is no overall planning for this
distinctive region in its entirety. Since the right of Tibetans to participate
fully in development planning is neglected, there is no one at
present to speak up for the plateau as a whole.
For fifty years, China’s state planners and economists negatively
evaluated Tibet as having ‘extremely low quality of human resources’.
China’s policy solution to this perceived problem is not to invest in
free universal basic education, as required under the UN’s developmental
goals. Beijing has taken upon itself the task and responsibility
of improving the quality of human capital through transfers of skilled
cadres and personnel, called ‘pioneers’ to help develop Tibet. An alternative
would have been to invest in education of the Tibetan population,
but the UNDP China Human Development Report 2005
shows this has not been done.
Migration initially began during Mao’s chairmanship when
young educated Chinese youths were sent to the countryside to help
the peasants. At this time, Beijing sent in large numbers of skilled and
technical personnel to Tibet to modernize and develop Tibet and its
economy. But this has had a huge downside, which was the influx of
Chinese settlers into the Tibetan region. There are now millions of
Chinese in Tibet, especially in eastern Tibet. In spite of Tibet’s vast
land area it can not support the increasing population. Tibet’s highland
has less than two percent of arable land.
China never took into consideration the pre-invasion Tibetan
economy as a basis for development. A new administrative and bureaucratic
system was built and staffed, in which decision-making powers were firmly in the hands of non-Tibetans. In S e p t e m b e r 2006, the Chinese government reduced the number of Tibetans on Lhasa’s most powerful ruling
body. It is the lowest proportion of representation of Tibetans since
1966. For the first time in 25 years, the Lhasa committee is being led
by Chinese communist cadres. Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director
at Human Rights Watch observed that China seems to be pushing
Tibetans out of positions of authority and Beijing’s promotion of
ethnic Chinese leaders fundamentally compromises Tibetans’ right to
participate in Lhasa’s most powerful institution.
This institutional arrangement, unprecedented in the history of
Sino-Tibetan relations, necessitated the largest influx of Chinese population
into the Tibetan region to carry out their intended development
work. This is why, for 49 years Beijing had to pump in enormous
funds and subsidies to sustain the burgeoning population of
urban cadres and sojourners in Tibet.
The migration of Chinese settlers was reinforced during Deng
Xiaoping’s time, when he revealed while visiting the United States in
1987: “Tibet cannot develop on its own. It should seek help from
fraternal provinces and municipalities [in China]. We need to get large
numbers of Han comrades in Tibet so that they can impart scientific
and technological know-how, share their scientific management expertise,
and help Tibet train scientific, technological, managerial personnel
to speed up its economic development.”
Transformed Gormo: a city of immigrants China’s Western Development Programme has relaxed China’s hukou residential registration system, to make it easier for Chinese migrants to transfer to Tibet. The TAR People’s Congress, despite nominal legislative powers, seems unable to regulate migration, even though Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai do regulate their migrant inflow.
Today, due to the state relaxation of the hukuo system and increase in massive infrastructure projects in the Tibetan region, connecting Beijing
with the heart of Tibet by railway, the influx of Chinese settlers has
accelerated. Chinese migration has reached such an extent that some
Tibetan officials inside Tibet have voiced their concerns over threat of
marginalisation of Tibetans in economic competition. This unfortunate
development is supported by documented accounts of many foreigners
and organizations working in the Tibetan region.
In 2000, China applied for a $ 40 million loan from the World
Bank to resettle 60,000 ethnic Chinese into northeastern Tibet. However,
a worldwide campaign against this project persuaded the World
Bank to deny the loan.
As a result of China’s population transfer policy, Tibetans have
been marginalised in economical, educational, political and social
spheres and the rich cultural tradition of the Tibetan people continues
to be threatened.
Copyright © 2008 Environment and Development Desk, DIIR, CTA