Follow example set by gold mine ban
The Tibet Autonomous Region issued a comprehensive ban on alluvial gold mines on Saturday.
According to a government order, all alluvial gold mines in Tibet should have stopped operating by November 30, and all workers and equipment should have been withdrawn from mining sites by the end of December.
This action comes in response to the State Council's recent call for regulation of the chaotic mining industries.
Nationwide, illicit mines, coal pits in particular, have become a target of public indignation in recent months because of frequent fatal incidents.
In its high-profile crusade against illegal mining, Beijing is preoccupied overwhelmingly with breaking the notorious alliance between public servants and illegal coal mine owners. The catchphrase is "production safety."
But in Tibet local decision-makers have their eyes on the environment.
Reports of life-threatening mining accidents are scarce in Tibet. But ecological damage is detrimental to the region's well-being, considering its extremely fragile ecosystem.
Alluvial gold mines are among the most destructive of all mining sites.
There once were 41 mining enterprises and 65 mining sites at the peak of the "gold rush" in the region. Many, if not all, of them destroyed natural vegetation and polluted water systems. In some areas, mining of alluvial gold has resulted in desertification.
That is why Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the regional government, in a harshly-worded internal speech believed to be the mobilization order against alluvial gold mines, said the game is not worth the candle.
These mines contribute little to local farmers and herdsmen, and a limited amount to the local government, he said. The damage to the environment they cause can no longer be tolerated.
The comprehensive ban strengthens the drive to restrain from what Qiangba Puncog termed the "predatory exploitation" of local resources.
The people of Tibet have a fine tradition of handling the relationship between man and nature. The native Bonpo religion worships mountains and rivers. The adopted Buddhism assimilated and displayed a similar appreciation of such harmony.
We are reassured to see that tradition is not only alive and well, but, more encouragingly, a thread woven into government thinking.
Only the current respect for man's natural habitat is no longer caused by a fear of offending deities.
Regional authorities closed down 29 alluvial gold mines in July 2003, and suspended 11 others for rectification. In Qamdo, local authorities have left their rich arsenic reserve, discovered in the 1970s, untapped. Environmental well-being was the main consideration in both cases.
Tibet is the last unexplored region of abundant treasures in our country. It is especially rich in chromium, copper, boron and lithium.
Much of the region's mineral reserves have remained untouched thanks to high transportation costs.
But as the Qinghai-Tibet railway is soon to open, tapping those reserves will become economically viable.
Tibet needs additional financial resources to fuel its economic ambitions. But in tapping its mining potential, the region should always keep in mind its fragile ecological conditions and resist the temptation of immediate monetary gains.
After all, once damage is done, it is difficult to repair.
Animated discourse is under way in the region about how to deal with the mineral reserves.
We hope the logic behind the ban on alluvial gold mines will prevail once again.
Not that Tibet's mineral reserves cannot be exploited, but they should be handled with maximum care.
(China Daily 10/10/2005 page4)
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