Government and Policy

Tibet to step up exploitation of mineral resources

Updated: 2010-03-13 10:03
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LHASA - Tibet has mapped out a plan to explore its abundant mineral resources to develop the region's impoverished economy, while vowing the process should be "rational" to avoid damaging natural environment and local culture.

"Rational exploitation of our mineral resources is a fast and efficient way to boost Tibet's 'leapfrog development," said Dorje, a senior official with the regional land and resources department.

"We must make sure the exploitation serves the interests of the Tibetan people, and minimize its impact on the environment." he said.

According to the plan, mineral resources will contribute at least 30 percent to the regional GDP in the next decade as China intensifies efforts to build a strategic natural resources reserve in the plateau region.

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"Rational and orderly exploitation of Tibet's mineral resources will power the region's 'leapfrog development'," said Dorje (many Tibetans go by a single name).

The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee announced plans to achieve "leapfrog development" in Tibet at the fifth meeting on the work of Tibet in January, including building the region into a "strategic reserve of natural resources" with an aim to reduce poverty among the Tibetan people.

"It will boost Tibet's economic development and improve the quality of the local people's lives," said Dorje, who is also a noted geologist and academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

"Tibet has witnessed the fastest-ever development in its history," according to Qiangba Puncog, head of Tibet's legislature.

Over the last eight years, Tibet has witnessed over 12 percent economic growth annually as 180 billion yuan ($26 billion) was poured into infrastructure in the region, mostly by the central government, he said.

The central government would continue to pour investment into Tibet in an effort to develop the economy of the remote, impoverished region and raise the living standards of its people, said Zhang Qingli, the region's Communist Party secretary.

Tibet has more than 3,000 proven mineral reserves containing 102 varieties of resources. It has China's biggest proven chromium and copper reserves, according to figures from the regional land and resources department.

"But Tibet's mineral industry is still fledgling, contributing about 3 percent to the local economy," Dorje told Xinhua.

Tibet's economy largely relies on farming and herding, which together employ about 80 percent of the local population.

Tourism has been playing a significant role in pushing economy, but the geological and climate conditions have prevent a large number of travelers from entering the region.

By 2020, the mineral industry would contribute to 30 to 50 percent of Tibet's GDP, he said. "By then, Tibet will benefit more from its own advantages."

Dorje warned of the potential impact such exploitation might inflict on the environment.

"We have to minimize the impact, and avoid repeating other provinces' mistakes -- such as exploiting resources at the cost of the environment," he said.

Dorje, who was trained to excavate for mines, said he still remembered a Beijing taxi driver's plea. "He said Tibet is the cleaniest, and most beautiful place in the world. 'I hope you'll never take up mining there'."

"I told him we would certainly cherish Tibet's environment and wait until technologies became mature enough to minimize damages," said Dorje.

The regional government has promulgated a document to regulate the market, ordering that only qualified companies with authorized certificates and high reputation in the industry have the right to explore mineral resources.

The exploitation company must be big enough to have a registered capital of at least 50 million yuan, according to the regional government.

Local Tibetans will be employed to participate in the exploitation.

Tibet has marked nine special zones for mineral industries, including a special economic zone centered on the Yulong Copper Mine, one of China's biggest copper mines in the eastern Qamdo Prefecture, and a salt lake area in the northwest that is expected to become a major base for saline minerals and lithium.

"It's a good thing that many people will get jobs," said Thubten, a peasant in Nanggarze County of Shannan Prefecture. "I hope these mining companies will help build roads and other infrastructure, too."

His fellow villager, Pempa Dondrup, said these companies should respect the local people's customs and religious beliefs. "For example, they must not excavate into our holy mountains."