U.S. May Try to Stop Loan Seen as Bad for Tibetans
-- New York Times
UNITED NATIONS -- The United States appears to be heading for another clash
with China, this time over a divisive World Bank development loan that
would help Chinese authorities resettle tens of thousands of Chinese in
regions traditionally inhabited by Tibetans and Mongolians.
The Clinton administration seems to be getting ready to oppose the
resettlement plan when it comes before the World Bank's executive board for
a final approval next month, though White House officials say no final
decision has yet been made.
Private pro-Tibetan groups are lobbying against the project, which would
spend $160 million to resettle 60,000 poor farmers from eroded hillsides in
China's western Qinghai province to better lands about 300 miles farther
China and the World Bank see the plan as part of a joint campaign to
alleviate rural poverty in remote areas by offering farmers the chance to
make a better living and relieving population pressures in the areas they
But critics argue that moving these farmers, who are mainly Han Chinese and
members of the minority Hui, Tu and Salar ethnic groups, will further erode
the culture, language and social position of the Tibetan inhabitants of
Dulan County in Haixi Prefecture, where the farmers are to be resettled and
which is a designated Tibetan and Mongolian Autonomous Area. Tibetans are
already in a minority there.
Qinghai province is outside the borders of the Tibetan region China annexed
in 1959, but has traditionally been strongly ethnically Tibetan and is the
birthplace of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Although Qinghai has been a province of China since the 17th century,
critics see the proposed resettlements as part of a broader campaign by the
Chinese authorities to weaken the national identity of Tibetan people under
Asked about the project during an appearance before the House Banking
Committee recently, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said, "We are
enormously concerned about it," adding that the United States is "inclined
to oppose it."
John Ackerly of the International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington-based
organization fighting for Tibetan rights, said: "This relocation, which the
World Bank now proposes to help finance, is part of a larger Chinese policy
which is now the greatest threat to the continued existence of the Tibetans
as a distinct people and culture."
In addition to further weakening the position of Tibetans in the region to
be resettled, critics say the plan violates the World Bank's own
guidelines, which state that indigenous ethnic minorities should "not
suffer adverse effects from bank-financed projects and that they receive
culturally compatible social and economic benefits."
"The proposed resettlement will make the indigenous Tibetans even more
marginal than they are already," said Kate Saunders of the London-based
Tibet Information Network, which first highlighted the dangers of the
Critics also argue that the scheme is part of a broader plan to establish
the infrastructure needed to exploit the region's mineral resources, which
would inevitably attract additional inflows of non-Tibetans. They also warn
that in view of the many prison camps in the area, China might use prison
labor on the project.
For the moment, the World Bank is standing behind the project. In a
briefing paper issued last week it defends the resettlement plan as an
integral part of its efforts to reduce poverty in China, which has already
cut the number of rural poor from 280 million to 80 million over the past
The farmers to be resettled, it argues, are "among the poorest people in
the world, with incomes of about $60 a year," who only survive on help from
the government and from relatives elsewhere in China.
But it admits that the resettlement would weaken the position of indigenous
Tibetans and Mongolians in the area.
In Haixi Prefecture, the Tibetan percentage of the population would fall
from 11.1 percent to 10.3 percent, while in Dulan County it would decline
from 22.7 percent to 14 percent. For Mongolians the comparative declines
are from 7.6 percent to 6.5 percent and from 14.1 percent to 6.7 percent.
Meanwhile, the number of Han Chinese in Haixi Prefecture would rise from
236,918 to 261,375 and in Dulan County from 27,977 to 52,434. But the bank
says it has assurances from the Chinese authorities that prison labor would
not be used in the resettlement project.