Tibetan Takeover

Tibetan Takeover

Alison Reynolds

The transfer of Chinese farmers to an unwilling part of traditional Tibet has been vigorously supported by the World Bank.

Inflicting further damage to its reputation, the World Bank has been ardently supporting a plan, known as the Qinghai component of the China Western Poverty Reduction Project, to lend China $40 million to resettle nearly 58,000 Chinese farmers from Hadong, East Qinghai, to Dulan County, West Qinghai, which is in a traditional part of Tibet called Amdo.

Objections were raised worldwide to the project because of well-grounded fears that it would set the precedent of legitimising Chinese population transfer in Tibet. The project would displace 4,000 people, including Tibetans and Mongolians, (for whom the project area is a traditional homeland), from their grazing lands and water sources. Chinese officials claim the project will help ease poverty among Chinese farmers, but Tibetans and their supporters argue that international institutions should not finance China’s efforts to reduce Tibetans to a minority in their own land. The Dalai Lama, who has repeatedly stated that the influx of Chinese into his homeland represents the greatest threat to the survival of the Tibetans as a distinct people, has said that the project would be “the source of even more problems”.

Despite such concerns, and the opposition of the United States and Germany, a majority vote on the World Bank Board (in which the UK voted in favour) gave the project conditional approval in June 1999, although funds were frozen until the Bank’s Inspection Panel, to whom a complaint had been made by the International Campaign for Tibet, had concluded its investigations.

The Inspection Panel of three international development specialists visited China in October 1999, and completed their report in April. While neither the report nor the Bank’s response were officially released before the Board met to consider the project’s future in July 2000, leaked copies of the report revealed a damning critique of a project that was said to be badly designed and failed spectacularly to meet seven out of ten of the Bank’s own operational directives.

The Bank was found to have violated its own policy on Resettlement, Indigenous Peoples, Environmental Assessment, Natural Habitats, Pest Management and Information Disclosure. The Bank’s failure to protect ethnic minorities was of particular concern. Significantly, the Panel found a “climate of feat” in the project area with “disturbing evidence that many people were clearly afraid to talk about the project; and many of those who were willing to talk about the project were strongly opposed to it. During these interviews, those who opposed the project clearly felt threatened and asked that their identity be kept secret,” as opposition to the resettlement amounts to opposition to Chinese government policy. The Bank contributed to this ‘climate of fear’, exposing people to danger with an incompetent consultation process that gave no guarantees of confidentiality and that excluded many affected Tibetans and Mongolians from being consulted altogether. In its response to the report, the Bank did not address these concerns, but merely proposed to undertake further studies, failing to acknowledge that the circumstances make it virtually impossible to reliably assess the views of affected people.

The Panel also identified serious institutional problems with the Bank, including disagreements from senior management downwards over the importance of compliance with the Bank’s guidelines. James Wolfensohn told the Board that controversy around the Qinghai Project was forcing “a literal and mechanistic application of the Operational Procedures and Directives that was never intended when they were written… happening at considerable cost to both China and the Bank”. Attitudes towards working in China were also questioned, as staff had maintained that “in China things are done differently”, but the Panel “failed to find any grounds for the view that precedents in a country can determine what is required by the policies”.

After eight weeks of negotiation with China, the Bank put a ‘fix’ to the Board, outlining a further 15 months of study “to remove all doubt that this is a sound project, measured against our highest standards”, followed by implementation. On 7 July 2000, however, in the face of a fresh wave of protest by Tibetans and their supporters from all over the world, and assertions by the German and US Executive Directors that Bank management had misled them, the Board rejected the Bank’s proposals, insisting that the project could not be implemented without a further Board meeting once the studies were complete. The Chinese authorities were furious and announced that China would proceed with the project itself. Tibet supporters celebrated a historic victory, but are aware that the story is not yet over. Although the World Bank has suffered a real blow, its dealings with China must continue to be scrutinised and the people of Dulan given our continued support.

Alison Reynolds is the Director of the Free Tibet Campaign, an independent membership organisation campaigning in support of the rights of the Tibetan people to freedom and independence, based in London.

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