Archive for November, 2014

Canada’s role in the economic development of Tibet


Despite high levels of investment and government expenditure in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Tibetans themselves are increasingly marginalized by development in their homeland.

That's the conclusion of new research by economist Andrew Fischer, associate professor of Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Fischer delivered his findings during the Talk Tibet series presented for the first time this year at Montreal's annual Tibetan Cultural Fair.

The event organized by the Canada Tibet Committee was held November 8 and 9 at Notre Dame de la Salette Church on Parc Avenue. The Talk Tibet series featured a wide range of speakers discussing topics of interest to the Tibetan community and its supporters.

Fischer introduced his new book Disempowered Development of Tibet in China: a study in the economics of marginalization. A significant achievement of research and scholarship, the study analyzes vast amounts of statistical information from official Chinese sources.

Fischer painted a picture of an inefficient economy in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which receives large amounts of government subsidies exceeding its Gross Domestic product. This funding - mostly spent on roads, railway lines and other infrastructure projects - is not paying off in jobs and higher incomes for Tibetans.

There is no preferential hiring of Tibetans and little possibility that even well educated Tibetans can work in the public sector, where the best quality jobs are found, Fischer said.  At the same time, many Tibetans are leaving agriculture and migrating to urban areas to look for work with little success.

Fischer suggested that public protests in Tibet over the last few years have as much to with this lack of economic opportunity as with religious and cultural oppression.

Some of these issues were echoed when Carole Samdup, executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee, discussed efforts to promote appropriate due diligence for Canadian investment in China.

Samdup noted that Canada has a large presence in Tibet with numerous companies doing business there, mostly in mining exploration.

Few of these companies appear to have much awareness of human rights and environmental abuses or much understanding of the concerns that affect Tibetans, she said. There appears to be a lack of communication about human rights between the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and Canadian companies doing business in Tibet.

Among the issues that require greater attention, she said, are: discrimination in work opportunities; loss of traditional lands and forced resettlement; the environmental impact of mining; and the lack of any remedy process for those whose rights are abused.

"Tibet should be a no-go zone for Canadian investment" until basic human rights and environmental protection can be guaranteed, she said.

Canada's recent bilateral agreement with China on investor protection does not appear likely to help the cause of human rights and environmental advocates.  The treaty is one of several investor protection agreements Canada has signed or is currently negotiating with other countries, said Denis Côté, coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Working Group at the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

Côté presented preliminary research into the human rights implications of such investment agreements, noting that they generally provide a high degree of protection to companies, even when human rights or environmental protection are compromised.

Such treaties confer rights on companies but not obligations to meet standards of human rights and environmental protection.  They provide the right for companies to sue governments in a court of arbitration if they feel their interests have been expropriated or otherwise harmed. These proceedings are not public or transparent and there is no right of appeal.

Côté said there could be a chilling effect on governments. They may be reluctant to legislate in the public interest for fear they might be sued by foreign investors.  He concluded that the recent Canada-China investment agreement is likely to provide a broad degree of protection for Canadian mining companies operating in Tibet.

Among other speakers in the Talk Tibet series was Kayum Masimov, president of the Uyghur Canadian Society. He drew close parallels between the oppression facing the Uyghur and Tibetan minorities in China.

The Uyghur area of East Turkestan was taken over by the Chinese in 1949. From 4 per cent of the population, ethnic Chinese now account for 45 per cent of the region's population.

Numerous religious and community leaders have been arrested and imprisoned, religious schools have been banned and the use of the Uyghur language restricted.

The area also became a testing ground for nuclear weapons for more than 30 years, with horrific results. More than 750,000 civilian deaths are blamed on the testing program and serious health defects continue to affect new-born children in the region, Masimov said.

TalkTibet is an ongoing series of events organized by the Canada Tibet Committee to stimulate debate about issues affecting the lives of Tibetan people, and to share aspects of the Tibetan culture of interest to Canadians.

Peter Hadekel is a Montreal-based journalist.