Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Balance Tibet's development with eco-protection

By Li Yang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-23 07:57

The Chinese central government's unflinching stand has been that the Tibet autonomous region should implement tailor-made development policies. In the late 1950s, Tibet went through democratic reforms that ended serfdom in the territory. In the 1990s, the region embarked on a massive afforestation and environmental protection drive. Today, natural reserves cover nearly 40 percent of Tibet's territory, compared with just 15 percent in the rest of the country.

Thanks to the central authorities' financial assistance, Tibetan people's livelihood has improved continuously without falling prey to polluting industries. Perhaps this is what prompted Losang Jamcan, head of Tibet autonomous region's government, to say at the 2014 Tibet development forum in Lhasa that, "the residents of Tibet are enjoying the best housing, medical care, schooling and transportation in history".

Co-hosted by Tibet's regional government and the State Council Information Office early this month, the occasion was the first forum when Chinese authorities turned to groups of foreigners for suggestions on Tibet's sustainable development model.

From 1952 to 2012, the central government's funds accounted for 96 percent of the Tibet government's expenditure. Tibet's economy has increased six-fold in the past 10 years. But unlike the eastern and central parts of China, it has not compromised its environment for the growth; it has been spared the "pollution first, clean up later" growth model.

To some extent, the scarcity of modern manufacturing industries has helped Tibet to strike a balance between economic development and preservation of nature. The disadvantages of economic growth become advantages when development is defined in a different paradigm, which emphasizes preservation, not production.

Tibetans' belief in the power of nature, environmentally-friendly way of life and a people-oriented local government make it much easier to drive home the message that happiness is not decided solely by money, a trait rampant in better-off regions of the country.

The national consensus in China is that Tibet's environment should be protected. Mahayana Buddhism, which has a deep influence on Chinese culture, shares similar values with Tibetan (or Vajrayana) Buddhism. The 40-odd ethnic groups living in Tibet love the snow-capped mountains, clean water, forests and grasslands on the plateau as much as they love themselves.

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