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Chinese authorities rename and rebuild quake-struck Tibetan area; Tibetans excluded from planning

February 1, 2011

ICT report, January 25, 2011

The authorities have announced that following the devastating earthquake
in April, 2010, they are rebuilding the Tibetan town of Kyegu in the
rural county of Yushu into a new tourist city with a Chinese name. The
news intensifies concern about the exclusion of Tibetans from the
reconstruction process in an area with a strong Tibetan identity,
recognised by the Chinese authorities as ‘Tibetan autonomous’ and where
Tibetans make up more than 90% of the population.

On April 14, 2010, a devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake flattened the
town of Kyegu in Yushu (also referred to as Jyekundo or Kyegudo) Tibetan
Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province, leaving nearly 3,000 people
dead and 100,000 homeless. (ICT report, “The Kyegu earthquake: six
months on,” October 18, 2010,
http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/kyegu-earthquake-six-
month). Qinghai provincial governor Luo Huining said last week: “In
light of the post-quake rebuilding work and Qinghai’s urbanization
drive, we will build Yushu County into a city with a new temporary name
of Sanjiangyuan [The Three River Sources].” (Xinhua, January 18, 2011.)

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet,
said: “Although the authorities recognize Yushu as a ‘Tibetan
autonomous’ area, they are excluding Tibetan involvement in this
reconstruction of a new city that is now being given a Chinese name.
This contravenes their own ‘ethnic autonomy’ laws and creates further
distress among those already devastated by loss and dispossession. There
is also a danger that historic Tibetan buildings that survived the quake
may now be razed in the reconstruction.”

A resolution was passed by the U.S. Congress on May 20, 2010 expressing
condolences to those affected by the earthquake and highlighting the
integral role Tibetans should have in the reconstruction. Representative
Mike McMahon (D-NY), the sponsor of the resolution, described Yushu as
“a cradle of Tibetan culture and religion for centuries,” and encouraged
the Chinese government to “include the local Tibetan population in
reconstruction plans.”

Sources with contacts in the area have told ICT that multiple projects
have been proposed, and while local Tibetans have either lodged strong
complaints or protested each one to date, local officials have responded
that Beijing authorities are responsible for the planning and there is
nothing the local officials can do. According to a report by Radio Free
Asia (RFA) in June, hundreds of Tibetans protested after officials began
evicting them from their land in order to claim the best locations for
building schools, government offices and parks. Sources told RFA that
many Tibetan families have refused to accept the government’s offer of
new, yet significantly smaller, reconstructed homes in exchange for
their land (“Tibetans protest over land,” RFA, June 3, 2010,
http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/land-06032010112635.html).

Although Tibetan businesses dominated the area prior to the earthquake,
there has been concern in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that
Tibetans who lost everything in the devastation and are trying to
recover will be crowded out by Chinese migrants who will rush in to set
up small businesses among the Chinese-run reconstruction efforts.
According to one source with contacts in the area, local Tibetans have
been excluded by private Chinese companies from jobs created by the
reconstruction process in favor of Chinese laborers. The same source
reports that the private companies compete for government contracts by
bribing officials, furthering concerns over the accountability and lack
of transparency for the millions of dollars in relief money that has
flooded the area.

The politicization of the reconstruction process, including the lack of
transparency over how the $1.5 billion (1.1 billion Euros) in aid money
that allegedly has been donated is being handled, has made many fearful
of government retribution for speaking about the current situation. Head
of the Yushu prefectural government, Wang Yuhu, was quoted by the
official Chinese news agency Xinhua as saying: “We rename Yushu County
as Sanjiangyuan City with a view to highlighting the area’s strategic
geological significance of being the source of three rivers [referring
to the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers]. We will strive to build Gyegu
Town into a commerce and logistics center and a tourist city featuring
ethnic traditional Tibetan culture and ecological preservation.”
(Xinhua, January 18, 2011.)

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Director of Communications, International Campaign for Tibet
Email: press@savetibet.org
Tel: +44 (0) 7947 138612
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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