Archive for June, 2015

Dharamsala Dispatch #7: A birthday video for the Dalai Lama

BY EVA CIRNU (Dharamsala) - Living in Dharamsala, we are often asked if we ‘meet the Dalai Lama’… No, we don’t. We are, however, fortunate enough to see him often. For example, whenever he travels we join the hundreds of people lining up along the streets of Dharamsala, waiting for him to bless them from his passing car. On other occasions, we attend public audiences that are organized for visitors & foreigners and during which he often shares advice on anything from compassionate living to doing drugs.

Lately, myself and Dominik Czartoryski, who is also a volunteer for the Canada Tibet Committee and living in Dharamsala, have had the opportunity to work on a project that made us feel as though we were meeting the Dalai Lama every day: we were filming and editing a video wishing him Happy Birthday, on behalf of the Tibetan government in exile and the Tibetan people. This post is less about the technicalities of that project and more about its emotional side putting the video together.

As one example, throughout the project I was amazed by how few Tibetans would agree to appear on camera to wish His Holiness Happy Birthday. Their profound reverence for the Dalai Lama compelled them to hesitate because they didn’t feel ‘up to the task’, or because they feared they would not do a good enough job.

We were also moved by the discovery of meaningful photographs to feature in the video. We did not want to re-use photos that had already circulated in the public domain and so we searched out photographers with previously unpublished images. Each photo that we found had a wonderful story behind it. For example, the photo depicting an old monk and young boy inside Tibet holding photos of the Dalai Lama reminded us that they both risked imprisonment for that very simple act.

The photo we used showing a nomadic family – a father with his two beautiful daughters – appears to portray a happy and worry-free family. As it turns out, both daughters had just missed the age cut-off for the mandatory boarding schools for nomad children. Photographer John Birchak told us that both of the girls were comforted in the realization that they would be doing what their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had been doing for generations.

John’s photo of the Potala was another reminder of today’s sad reality inside Tibet. Once the glorious home of the Dalai Lama filled with historical significance for the Tibetan people, the Potala is now a government-operated museum. Still, China’s propaganda does not fool visitors. “I wanted the photo to suggest sadness with the dark sky, clouds and graininess”, explained John Birchak.

The final version of our video was launched just prior to the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan calendar birthday on June 22. Dominik and I were honored to have been part of the project and are now, more than ever, in awe of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s accomplishments and life-long commitment to compassion and non-violence.

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.
Eva Cirnu is Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section. She is based in Dharamsala, India.

Illuminating human rights

BY SAMPHE LHALUNGPA (Ottawa):  Your Worship, Mayor Watson, esteemed speakers and invitees, what an honor to be here today at this special ceremony to illuminate this monument, the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights.


As a Canadian of Tibetan origin, it is a special honor to be here, speaking on behalf of the Canada-Tibet Committee and as someone from a micro community. As you all know, this monument was inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his 1990 visit to Ottawa… and I the had the pleasure of being here for that special event – though I must admit with slightly more hair and considerably less waist!!

Much has happened since then. His Holiness was made an Honorary Canadian, one of just five. The great champion of freedom and human rights, Madeba - Nelson Mandela - is another. His Holiness has also gone on to become a universally respected figure for his compassion and commitment to non-violence and for his very special bond with people.


In these short remarks, I would like to make two points:

  • The need for us here in Canada, along with others of goodwill and friends of China, to advocate for rolling back the series of measures now in place in Tibet that deny the people there, even those rights prescribed under the constitution of the PRC;
  • To make a point that facilitating access to rights is an important dimension of creating a culture of rights.

The first point: Today, in the face of unrelenting repression by a security state and the brutal crackdown on the very idea of what it is to be a Tibetan on the High Plateau, Tibetans have remained true to the principles of non-violence and in fact in more than 140 cases have chosen to sacrifice their own lives in protest through self -immolation. Not only people, Tibet’s fragile environment is also under pressure because of China’s policies. Here I would like to share a few lines of a poem by a Tibetan blogger on the impact of uncontrolled mining on the High Plateau:

On top of the Mountain, people with metal fangs

Tear off the skeleton of the mountain, Blue Sheep,

Start on the hillside, hawks hover in the sky

Unable to find a rock to perch on, feathers

Shed in the wind

On the silent grasslands, those

Tracks of wheels, like a scar on a young girls face

Oppress the vessel of the mountain…….While those

Irrelevant rocks, exposed

Shapeless blood, whiter than milk

Drop by Drop, flows along

With the wound of the hillside

While the mountains are scarred and people battered, the spirit is strong and does not give in to hate.

It is now time for the world community to recognize these acts of courage and morality. Dear friends, Canada is well placed to call for dialogue towards the establishment of real negotiations on the Tibet issue. Our standing is bolstered by actions such as the Truth and Reconciliation process and we now enjoy a unique opportunity to use that space as the basis for assuming international leadership on the Tibet issue.

Too often the discourse on human rights becomes a finger pointing exercise. What is needed is for countries to share best practices and in this way to ensure that human rights advocacy reflects our respect and empathy for the other. For example where countries do the right thing, we should recognize their achievements including for example, in the PRC which has in recent years managed to bring some 400 million out of poverty. This is a laudable achievement and needs to be recognized also within its human rights perspective.

As a retired UNICEF development professional, I can say that the Convention on the Rights of the Child changed the focus, strategies and direction of our work and engagement. Because it was seen in less threatening terms, it is one of the most widely ratified human rights conventions, closer examination will reveal that it contains, many clauses that refer to freedoms of association, religion etc.

My observations as a development professional with UNICEF over the last 24 years have convinced me that human rights must not only be declared but must also be resourced. People must be able to access their rights, especially people who are socially or economically excluded or marginalized.

For example, most countries now claim to be in compliance with the Right to Education. On paper, it is certainly the case, but on closer examination, one finds that significant numbers of children do not have meaningful access. Although they may be enrolled, they have not been able to complete their education or the education they completed was not at an acceptable standard. I mention education especially as today is the International Day of Action on Child Labor and in many cases it is the lack of meaningful access – in its broadest sense -- to quality education that drives families and children to work. So yes, primary school enrollment is a start and by no means an end goal. When very poor families have to make a choice between the purchase of exercise books for the child and school fees or food in the family pot, the choice is obvious - legislation notwithstanding. It is not Education For All.

Finally, I first arrived in Ottawa in 1976 from Vancouver, where my family had lived since 1971, and was then almost the only person of Tibetan origin here. Today, after being away for more than 23 years, I am glad to report that there are around 70 Tibetans in Ottawa and by 2016, we should number around 100. These latest additions to the group are thanks to the Government of Canada and its positive response to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s request to take 1000 Tibetans from Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast of India.

In 1959, it was the generosity of the Government and people of India that more than 120,000 Tibetan refugees were welcomed to India. Today, His Holiness calls Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh his home – he also speaks about the importance of Mahatma Gandhi’s example in his thinking.

Monuments are useful but it is only when they become part of the life and consciousness of people around them that they resonate. That is why I was so very pleased to see pictures of Tai Chi being practiced around Canada’s monument to human rights.

Though Tibetans are a small community here, I assure you that we will punch above our weight in working with other Canadians to strengthen the culture of human right in this city and across the country.

Thank you, Merci

Samphe Lhalungpa is a 23 year veteran of the United Nations and the former President of CTC-Ottawa branch. His remarks were prepared for delivery at the June 12, 2015 lighting ceremony of the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument located in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.

Dancing the Canada-China mining two-step in Tibet, Congo or Papua New Guinea

BY GABRIEL LAFITTE ( When, in 2012, I wrote a book about mining in Tibet, it seemed China’s appetite for minerals was insatiable, having survived the great global recession of 2009 onwards with hardly a blip in demand. By then the global commodity boom had been rolling on nonstop for a decade and nothing, it seemed, could slow it, not even a global financial crisis. And all the long term predictions, based on assuming China can, must and will achieve the same  consumption levels of the richest countries, cheerfully forecast decades more of rising mineral extraction worldwide to meet China’s needs.

How wrong we all were. The unstoppable Chinese demand, in the aftermath of the global crash, was fuelled by endless stimulus money pumped in by China’s central authorities, ostensibly for infrastructure construction, which uses up lots of metals and other basic commodities. Much of that money was diverted, often by local governments, to much more profitable real estate ventures, constructing all those tower blocks and ghost cities of empty apartment blocks in the desert. They too needed lots of copper, steel and other metals.

Then the music finally stopped, just after the book, Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World was launched in October 2013. As well as empty apartment towers, all that stimulus had built many more smelters and refineries than China, or the world market, actually needed, and suddenly the big new problem was oversupply.

Now, in mid-2015, that problem is bigger than ever, so big that a major driver of China’s New Silk Road project is to establish export markets in neighbouring Asian countries for all the excess supply. But prices have fallen sharply, and have now remained low for years, and show no sign in the short term of recovering, even if the long term pundits are right that there is still a long way to go before China uses copper and other metals as intensively as the US.

Until the recent over supply crisis, China’s mining companies, nearly all state-owned, pursued an aggressive strategy of mergers and acquisitions worldwide to get hold of more raw materials, as well as expanding rapidly into Tibet, notably the big copper/gold deposits at Shetongmon near Shigatse, at Kham Yulong between Chamdo and Derge, and Gyama upstream from Lhasa.

Two companies stand out in this rush: Jinchuan and Zijin. Jinchuan has long dominated nickel supply in China. Its home base is far inland, in Gansu,  close to the main rail line connecting China and Tibet, placing Jinchuan in the ideal position to be the smelter for the first big copper mine to get under way in Tibet, at Shetongmon. The Canadian company Continental, part of the Hunter Dickinson Group, did much of the work of quantifying the size of the deposit and the most profitable strategy for extracting the copper, gold and silver there. Then Jinchuan bought out not only Continental’s interest in Shetongmon, aided by China’s national rule forbidding foreign investors from actually mining molybdenum (one of Shetongmon’s minerals). Jinchuan went one further and bought Continental, which is now a subsidiary of Jinchuan.

Jinchuan also pressed ahead with constructing a big new copper smelter, just as the prices started tumbling. By April 2014, Jinchuan’s  oversupply problems became so acute, they reneged on contracts with their suppliers in far away Chile, relying on the concept of force majeure, meaning uncontrollable disaster, to cancel contracts for Chilean copper concentrates. Jinchuan announced a problem with oxygen supply to the main Gansu smelter, a problem so severe it would knock out all production for as much as four months, giving Jinchuan a breather.

This occurred just as China, at great expense, completed the rail extension from Lhasa to Shigatse, well to the west, leaving only 80kms to the Shetongmon mine. So Tibetan copper, in big quantities, became available, along with supplies from Chile and elsewhere, at exactly the time demand tanked.

That’s a major reason we don’t hear so much about mining it Tibet these days. From the perspective of China’s major mining companies, access to capital isn’t a problem, especially since the stock markets are again booming, and investors are keen to get a slice of the action, despite the overall economic slowdown. The problem is where to invest, where to get the best bang for the renminbi. Tibet doesn’t cut it, compared to the available alternatives.

This brings us to the other company with a major slice of Shetongmon, Zijin Mining, based in eastern China, its fortune built on gold. In 2011 Jinchuan sold a 45 per cent stake in Shetongmon to Zijin, a big company with a strong history of going global. In May 2015 Zijin acquired half of the troubled Porgera copper/gold mine in Papua New Guinea, from a heavily indebted Canadian miner, Barrick. At the same time, Zijin also announced it had bought almost half the Kamoa copper/gold mine in Democratic Republic of Congo from another Canadian miner, Ivanhoe.

Zijin has also acquired mines in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tuva (the most Tibetan part of Russia) and Kyrgyzstan, a literal embarrassment of riches.

Why, at a time of oversupply, depressed prices and force majeure, would  Chinese miners want to buy mineral deposits in difficult places like PNG and Congo? This tells us much that is relevant to Tibet. Remarkable as it may seem, mining projects ready to roll, in remote Congo and PNG are actually less remote, less difficult than mining in Tibet, building it all from scratch.  Tibet is actually harder.

Much of this is because the Tibetan Plateau is huge, and mineral deposits are often in areas difficult to access. China has spent decades building infrastructure, but there is still so much to be done, especially before the massive copper/gold deposits at Yulong, in precipitous Kham, are ever to be mined, concentrated, smelted and shipped out to lowland Chinese industries.

But there is another reason why Tibet is harder than PNG or Congo: the Tibetans. Although Tibetans feel disempowered by authorities declaring protests to be criminally splittist, they persist in protesting against mining, often taking care to quote Xi Jinping’s environmental pronouncements in the biggest possible banner headings. As the eminent Tibetanist scholar Gray Tuttle pointed out recently in article in Foreign Affairs, it takes a state with 1.3 billion population to hold down the Tibetans. That is how Tibetans see it.

While small scale mining is rampant across Tibet, the much more publicly visible, capital-intensive large scale mines in Tibet are taking a long time to develop, longer than one might expect if all those Five-Year Plan announcements of mining as Tibet’s “pillar industry” were to be believed. It is certainly taking longer than I expected when I wrote that 2013 book on mining.

Longer is not never. Demand may yet rebound, mining is highly cyclical. If China is serious about adopting the American life style and American consumption, the minerals of Tibet will be in demand, especially as China’s biggest manufacturers move far inland, close to Tibet. But not just yet.

When the minerals cycle ticks up again, as it will, Tibetans may need friends worldwide. But because China reserves the mining of Tibet for itself, with very little international investment, what traction do Tibet’s friends worldwide have?

Here again things have moved on since that 2013 book. Not only are Chinese and Canadian miners doing deals to take over each other’s assets, so too the global minerals commodity traders are buying into a slice of the action in China. Specifically, the Swiss commodities trader Trafigura has bought 30 per cent ownership of Jinchuan’s new copper smelter –Jinchuan’s other smelter, the one that didn’t have the oxygen problem and the four months of force majeure repudiation of contracts. Jinchuan would like to believe it has done Trafigura a favour by giving it access to Chinese markets, but, given chronic over supply, it is Trafigura, able to sell the new smelter’s output into other Asian countries, that is helping out Jinchuan. That new smelter, a big one, is also in a minority nationality area, in Guangxi province.

Jinchuan, the owner of the Shetongmon mine near Shigatse, may also hope that its connection with Trafigura gives it (and China) entrée to the world of commodities futures, hedging, arbitraging and financialisation of minerals. China wants to get into the big league worldwide.

Trafigura, however, probably knows how much reputation affects stock prices, and how much a brand can be damaged by hanging out with the wrong crowd.

This article has been re-posted with permission.

Gabriel Lafitte is an environmental economist.  He is currently a researcher in the Department of Management, Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University in Australia.  He is the editor of, a blog focusing on the fate of Tibetan nomads.