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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Opinion: China's 2010 Work Forum on Tibet: A Turn Towards Meeting Basic Human Needs?

March 2, 2010

By Gabriel Lafitte
March 1, 2010


Official Chinese policy on Tibet has long had two
strands -on one hand development, on the other stability/security.

Few seem to notice they are contradictory, giving
with one hand, taking with the other; creating
opportunities only to restrict access to them, to
those who can be trusted, who in Tibet almost
always are Chinese immigrants. The internal
contradictions of promoting growth while
restricting Tibetan agency inevitably lead to
Tibetans feeling excluded, while the promised
growth benefits only the Chinese immigrants, from
top officials down to Sichuanese expeasant building labourers.

This contradiction is at the root of Tibetan
frustrations, and is compounded by the internal
contradiction of the propaganda work of the new
elite in Tibet. The security state China has
built in Tibet is run by a new elite class of
cadres that peddles a narrative which follows a
predictable trajectory, a cycle which repeats
over the years. Tibetans and their friends around
the world are very familiar with one part of this
operatic cycle, in which the splittist Dalai
clique is denounced in harsh, lurid language.
This never fails to attract more money from
Beijing to strengthen the security state. Then
the elite gradually shifts to assuring Beijing
and anyone else listening, that the Tibetan
masses generally are patriotic, and support the
party and want nothing to do with the tiny but
ever present splittist enemy within. Eventually,
through endless repetition the party elite in
Tibet and in Beijing come to believe their own
propaganda narrative. They are then shocked when
events show Tibetans are more alienated and
disenchanted than ever by the endless
discrimination, exclusion and racist contempt
they experience daily. So the cycle repeats.

China's policy towards Tibet has exhausted
itself. The protests erupting all over Tibet were
deeply embarrassing to cadre elite, who failed to
keep things under local control. The provincial,
prefectural and country level cadres in Tibet
that China has always relied on, are manifestly
unable to keep a lid on Tibetan frustrations.
Within the party apparatus, this is a shameful
loss of face, since the primary task of local
officials is to stop protests from erupting
beyond the lowest levels. Cadres are under strict
orders to do whatever it takes for higher levels
not to be disturbed, and this was repeated in
December 2009 in the Party journal Qiushi. Zhou
Yongkang, political and legislative committee
chairman for the Party's Central Committee, said
"conflict should not be handed up to a higher
levels. Small problems should stay in the
village, and bigger problems should stay in the township."1

Recent TAR personnel changes, and accelerated
retirements of senior officials, both Chinese and
Tibetan, suggest a search for someone new who
actually knows what is in Tibetan minds/hearts.
The failure of the party's local eyes and ears to
foresee the 2008 protests, despite their
incessant beating of the drum of eternal
vigilance against the splittist enemy, suggests a
system of governance that is demonstrably
bankrupt and exhausted, prone to chronically
believing its own propaganda rather than having its eyes open.

Are there signs that Beijing has discovered its
dual policy is contradictory and
counterproductive, that it only intensifies
Tibetan grief and pain? Other than a few
personnel changes at the top, is there evidence
that Beijing is looking afresh at Tibet?


The key is the Work Forum of January 2010,
bringing together all party organs and government
ministries with stakes in Tibet, including, for
the first time, all regions, prefectures and
counties designated as areas of Tibetan
governance, whatever province they are in.

We are not well placed to know what went on at
the Work Forum. There was a public announcement,
well worth a close analysis, but it may have
little to do with actual future directions, as
Robbie Barnett has pointed out: "There are some
signs that different ideas are circulating in the
discussions, although just because the central
government says certain things does not mean they
will actually be implemented." (Financial Times 18 Feb 2010)

Nonetheless, the convening of a Work Forum on
Tibet, only the fifth time in the past 30 years,
brought together all official stakeholders, party
and state, to thrash out a new policy. In itself
this a sign that Beijing is facing up to its
chronic failure to attain its most fundamental
goal, of winning the loyalty of the Tibetan people, throughout Tibetan areas.

The inclusion of Tibetan areas beyond the Tibet
Autonomous Region is itself a major step,
announced by the Work Forum. It is a recognition
of the emergence -unwittingly fostered by China-
of a panTibetan identity that pays no heed to the
19th century Qing dynasty provincial boundary
lines of convenience. While it may be that the
driver of the Work Forum's single approach to all
Tibetan areas is a unified paramilitary/security
capacity for rapid mobilisation, the single
approach overrides the provinces of Sichuan,
Yunnan, Gansu and especially Qinghai, four of
China's provinces that constitute the core of
China's southwest and northwest. Each has become
used to seeing its small Tibetan minority as
peripheral if troublesome, confined to the
margins, not only spatially but economically,
politically and culturally. Now, in keeping with
several Beijing initiatives of recent years, the
centre seems to be recentralising power, in
recognition that neglect of the Tibetan minorities is dangerous.

Tibetans in Tibet have long argued for policies
that treat all Tibetan areas the same, and in
education curricula and scientific research
disciplines, they have succeeded. Rather than
this being a claim to a "greater Tibet," the
basis for a common policy is China's official
designation of 150 counties as areas of Tibetan
governance, even though only half are within the
provincial unit designated the Tibet Autonomous
Region (TAR). Not only are half the officially
Tibetan counties outside TAR, more than half the
Tibetan population is beyond TAR as is half the
land area designated as Tibetan.

Geographically, climatically and scientifically
this larger area is the Tibetan Plateau, or in
Chinese terms the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. In fact
China's quest to make Tibet governable led in
recent decades to an emphasis on creating a
standardised Tibetan spoken and written language
that transcends the mutual unintelligibility of
the traditional provinces of Tibet. Tibetan
curricula have long treated Tibet as one.

Likewise the publications of scientists, whether
dealing with the moths of Tibet, clouds of Tibet,
glaciers, pastures, permafrost or myriad other
research topics, have long treated the Tibetan Plateau as a single entity.

In a world where political boundaries seldom
coincide with ethnic populations, still less with
natural units such as watersheds, plateaus,
biomes or climatic zones, the Tibetan Plateau is
a remarkable congruence, a single, coherent and
internally consistent unit of language, culture,
religion, geography, habitat and climate. So the
restoration of a single policy is to a remarkable
extent the return of a natural unit.


The rhetoric coming from the 2010 Work Forum is
that fast tracked "leap over" development is the
new emphasis, especially in rural areas. This may
mean no change to well established policies which
equate general economic growth with development,
and which have long poured capital from Beijing
into Tibet, only to find Tibetans feel more
excluded than ever. It may well be that Beijing
has been unable to reimagine its development model.

Yet there are new elements. The Work Forum did
not conclude, as did past forums, with a long
list of megaprojects to build huge infrastructure
basics, specially dams, roads, railways, power
stations, logistics hubs and urban centres. This
may be because the 12th Five Year Plan for the
eyars 2011 to 2015 will announce such big
spending projects. Instead, as Zhang Yun, of the
China Tibetology Research centre says, "It used
to be said that first should come fast economic
development and then livelihoods. But now the
focus is much more on people's wellbeing." (Financial Times 18 Feb 2010)


How are we to assess China's new committment to
meeting the basic human needs of rural Tibetans,
whatever their province? To what extent does the
public announcement coming from the 2010 Work
Forum on Tibet signify a real swing away from
heavy infrastructure towards income generation
opportunities and social welfare that poor rural
Tibetans actually need, and will appreciate? What
does China's vague new slogan, of combining
Chinese characteristics with Tibetan flavour, actually mean?

If basic needs and development are now to be the
yardsticks of Chinese policy, Tibetans assessing
China's new promises need some grounding in development economics.

We also need empirical evidence of what a shift
to meeting Tibetan needs might mean in practice,
and fortunately, evidence is available. This is
because the 2010 Work Forum is not the first time
Chikna has promised to shift its capital
expenditure in Tibet away from heavy
infrastructure, towards a greater emphasis on
meeting basic needs of remote, rural Tibetans. If
we go back to the launch of the TAR 11th Five
Year Plan in 2006, the rhetoric was similar, with
clear announcements that during the five years
2006 through 2010, there would be central funding
allocated to improving rural housing in TAR, and
in raising rural incomes. Now, in 2010, we can
look back and see what actually happened in TAR,
which may now become a model for what could be
rolled out in the 75 Tibetan counties outside TAR.

However, we should also note that public
announcements of a more "people first" growth
policy are neither new nor confined to Tibet.
China's leaders, under popular pressure for
having so long neglected the rural poor, the
health, education and income generating
opportunities of those in remote areas all over
China, have in recent years often announced a
shift towards yiren weiben (people first in
English, mi rtsa bar 'dzin in Tibetan). In
practice this has not always meant much, as China
has persisted in its prioritising of full speed
growth and wealth accumulation, all concentrated
in areas and sectors best able to maximise
profits. Far from being able to allocate capital
to remote areas, Beijing's willingness or ability
to redistribute wealth has been constrained by
the power of the richest provinces and corporations.


The most dramatic example of the gap between
rhetoric and reality is the 2009 wave of money
Beijing made available, ostensibly as stimulus
spending to lift the incomes of the poor,
stimulate domestic demand to make up for lost
export sales, and as proof of China's good global
citizenship in doing more than its share, in the
midst of a global financial crisis, to sustain
domestic demand by rebalancing the structure of
the economy towards those who have been missing
out. China has sought global acclaim for this
major contribution to the world's economic
recovery, created by government-led investments.
Yet, as we shall see later in this analytical
series, the 2009 explosive growth in cheap money
was hardly made available to the poor, but was
largely captured by the rich, who directed it
into real estate property speculation, further
pushing up urban housing prices beyond the reach
of the poor who migrate to cities.

First, however, to the anthropological fieldwork
on China's 2006 promise to shift capital
investment towards meeting basic needs of rural
Tibetans in TAR. A 2010 report by American and
Tibetan social scientists on villages close to
Shigatse, both well-off and poor, shows in detail
how China's promises are implemented.[2]

The 11th Five Year Plan of 2006 through 2010
(FYP11) for TAR allocated 100 billion yuan for
TAR, of which one fifth was earmarked for yiren
weiben (people first) projects, 22bn yuan, or
US$2.9 bn at official exchange rates. The other
four-fifths went, as usual, to infrastructure megaprojects.

The yiren weiben emphasis was on housing, with
3.2 bn yuan allocated to assisting rural Tibetans
in upgrading their old houses; and 12.3 bn
allocated for fulfilling the Millennium
Development Goal of piping safe drinking water to
villages, installing biogas farm waste digesters
to provide a fuel for cooking, extending mobile
phone towers into rural areas, village feeder
roads connecting to highways, education, health etc.

The social scientists looked most closely at the
anju gongchen (comfortable housing programme in
English, bde sdod rnam grangs in Tibetan)
implementation in three villages where farmers
already had houses, in need of renovation.
Households could receive up to 20,000 yuan
towards the cost of a new house, in cash and
materials such as wooden beams. Since the cost of
building a new house was 50,000 yuan in the
poorest village and 80,000 in the richest, the
"subsidy represented on average only between 15
and 20 per cent of the cost of totally rebuilding
the houses." The subsidy was not a grant but a
loan, interest-free for three years, which the
central government ordered Agricultural Bank of
China to make to rural Tibetans who could show
they had sufficient income to repay the loan.

Inevitably, many households, especially the
poorest, did not dare apply for this cheap loan,
for fear of being unable to repay; and in the
four years monitored by the researchers 47 per
cent of households in the three villages near
Shigatse took up anju gongchen loans. This is far
short of the 80 per cent officially promised when the FYP11 was announced.


 From a development economics viewpoint, such
programs are most beneficial when they
specifically target the poorest households, which
can be successfully done only if they receive
income support. However, this program yet again
bypassed the poor, as do most Chinese aid and
development schemes, since they are designed on a
semi-commercial basis, as soft loans that do need
to be repaid. In fact, the researchers emphasise
the extent to which the ability to take such a
loan is tied to the young adults in the family
leaving to migrate to cities in Tibet where they
can earn income, often as construction labourers in Lhasa's boom.

The 47 per cent of households that did take loans
usually did not renovate but built completely new
two-storey houses with concrete floors and many
glass windows, confident that they could rely on
much more than farming as income to pay most of
the construction cost, then repay the loan. This
locks families into having the healthiest members
away for long periods, and contributes to the
decline of farming, and the added burden on women
as the men are away, "going for income." (yongbab
la droya in Tibetan). Again, from a development
perspective, there are unintended consequences
which in fact are quite predictable, but seldom
considered when such projects are designed. As
the researchers -Mel Goldstein, Geoff Childs and
Bhuchung Wangdi- point out, the purpose of such
projects is not so much poverty alleviation as "inculcating loyalty."

This suggests some of the difficulties such
statist interventions face, in remote areas. The
amounts of money allocated by Beijing to the
FYP11 rural wellbeing program in TAR are
enormous. The 22 billion yuan announced in 1996
would be about 55,000 yuan per rural household,
yet clearly actual households saw very little of
such largesse. If that amount was given to each
rural TAR Tibetan, including children, spread
over five years, it would add 2000 yuan to annual
incomes that, on Chinese statistics, were only
2167 yuan per capita in 2007.[3] In other words,
handed directly to rural Tibetans, their incomes
would have doubled at once, each year for five
years. Clearly this did not happen.

Now, in 2010, we are about to see a new Five Year
Plan rolled out, the 12th, for the years 2011 to
2015. If the 2010 Work Conference is a guide, the
FYP12 sums will be even greater, and such schemes
will now cover all Tibetans areas, in and beyond
TAR. So it is worth looking closely at where
Beijing's money went, and what the outcomes were.

The concept of "people first" development does
suggest programs designed to meet actual needs,
which can only be known to the state through the
involvement of local populations in project
design. This does not happen in Tibet. Cadres do
not ask the masses what they want.

But the new approach does now target village
households, with extra sums made available to the
poorest households. However, in practice, the
poorest seldom are able to make the required
co-payments, or borrow money available through
soft loans, since they cannot confidently be sure
of having sufficient surplus income when repayment of loans is due.

Likewise, recent programs ostensibly targeted to
help poor schools have, in Tibet, often failed.
This is because a poor county government is
required to provide a matching sum but is unable
in practice to match the funds on offer from
Beijing, so they forfeit what on paper is on
offer. If our concern is basic needs, people
first, this is an important failure, since so
many Tibetan families are extremely poor, often
because farming, pastoral nomadism and
semi-nomadism in Tibet are inherently risky due
to a highly variable climate which is now becoming more extreme.

The social scientists in the villages close to
Shigatse investigated other aspects of China's
"people first" programme. Basic health insurance
was introduced, which enabled rural families to
be reimbursed much of the costs of being admitted
to a hospital ward for serious illness, up to 550
yuan. This is not a large amount if a serious
illness is to be treated, but much better than
having to pay all hospital costs upfront and in
advance, which is what Tibetans have had to do
when thyey could get a sick person to a distant
hospital. Direct income support for poor parents,
and for the elderly, has begun, though the
amounts paid are modest. From a development
perspective, direct income payments are better
able to reach those in most need than the past
approach of promoting general economic growth, in
the expectation that something would trickle down to the poor.


Considerable central capital investment has also
gone into income generating schemes that satisfy
the demand in nearby cities of Tibet for meat. In
China, meat consumption in 1980 was 13.7 kilos
per person, and in 2005 had jumped to 59.5 kg per
capita.[4] Chinese immigrating to Tibet always
assume Tibet is a land of meat, and are often
disappointed that pastoral nomadic production has
barely commercialised and is far from having industrialised.

One of the official projects initiated in a
wealthy village close to urban Shigatse was the
fattening of chickens for slaughter, with central
funding available to assist villagers to
construct chicken coops. A Sichuanese contractor
two or three times a year brings in a huge number
of of baby chicks from Sichuan, passes them on to
the Tibetan women who do the work of rearing the
chicks (while the men are away on construction
sites in Shigatse and Lhasa), and he then
collects the fattened chickens for slaughter
three months later. Each household was given cash
and materials costed at 8000 yuan to construct
their chicken coop, plus chickenfeed and the
first batch of chickens. The local government
claims to have spent 9 million yuan on the five
participating villages, which now produce several
hundred thousand chickens to be consumed in
Shigatse, increasing family incomes by 1500 to
2000 yuan per year. As the social scientists say,
this is "enormously expensive" and hard to
replicate in villages that lack quick access to Tibet's fast growing cities.

This is not the first time development
institutions in Tibet have proposed chicken
farming as a quick way to increase rural incomes,
but Tibetans have been reluctant to raise animals
specifically for slaughter. There was also a
sheep-fattening program in Sogang, one of the
villages studied, which "was not very
successful." The reason the sheep feedlots failed
says much about whether such income generating
ideas are adapted to the realities of Tibet. Two
basic realities are that, with a scattered
population, labour has always been short,
especially in the brief growing season, and this
has fundamentally shaped the practices of both
pastoral nomadism and farming. Yet the sheep
fattening project was highly labour intensive,
requiring construction of new pens, and the
sowing of ploughed land with lentil seeds for
fodder to feed to the sheep. Significant returns
on this investment of money and labour were
possible only if larger flocks were maintained,
which in turn required hiring shepherds to graze
them on summer pastures at a distance from the
village. All of this came at a time when the
customary labour shortage had become chronic due
to the routine migration of young men to the
cities seeking construction labouring incomes. In
other words, the best that can be said about such
a program is that it came at least 10 years too
late to keep people on the farm, and was not
designed with Tibetan conditions in mind.

The FYP11 rural programmes also provided central
funding for repairing and extending irrigation
channels, building pumping stations and
reservoirs, subsidising the purchase of tractors
and other farm machinery, subsidising fertiliser
costs, even paying modest amounts for land
planted with traditional barley, or newer varieties of wheat.

However, even if all these payments are added,
the total comes to nothing like the 22 bn yuan
allocated under FYP11 for TAR rural "people
first" development. As for the rest, the most
plausible explanation is that, in Andrew
Fischer's words, it is "boomerang aid," which
goes back to China, having had very little impact in Tibet.

When Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's special envoy
in Washington sums up the 2010 Work Forum, he
says: "If we take away the political slogans,
many of the issues that have been prioritised by
the forum are similar to the basic needs of the
Tibetan people outlined in our memorandum." This
hopeful reading may be right. When the 12th Five
Year Plan for 2011 through 2015 is announced,
covering all Tibetan areas, we will see whether
the FYP11 program has become the model for
"people first" development throughout Tibet.


Such schemes do increase incomes of rural
Tibetans, but whether they achieve good
developmental results, are sustainable and
culturally suited to rural Tibet is questionable.
Good development practice aims at reaching the
poorest of the poor, which these schemes usually
fail to do. Development means enhancing the human
capital of the poor, improving their literacy and
general education, health and access to services,
which these schemes do very little (except for
providing safe drinking water to villages). Most
basically, good developmental outcomes require
that poor people not gamble their meagre savings,
or jeopardise future earnings, by taking on more
debt than they can repay. Yet the key project, to
build housing, was financed by loans to be repaid
by Tibetans so poor they would normally never
have access to bank loans. The many who did take
out loans were confident they could repay in
coming years "because many in the younger
generation were earning non-farm cash income as
migrant labourers and felt that they would be
able to earn the cash needed to repay the loans.”
This is very similar to the subprime loans made
to poor people in the US, which also offered a
year or two with little or no repayments. Poor
Americans and poor rural Tibetans gambled on
being able to repay, but often failed.

How great is the risk that the urban construction
boom in Lhasa and Shigatse will dry up, and
off-farm income opportunities will disappear?
Much depends on the ongoing willingness of
Beijing to pump ever more capital into
construction projects, and there are reasons to
question whether this can be done in future as
vigorously as at present. That is the subject of
a separate forthcoming report on China's state
capitalism. Even if the city construction boom
persists, Tibetans compete with poor Chinese
immigrants, mostly from Sichuan; and there is
much evidence of immigrants muscling Tibetans
aside, or using connections to get preferentially
hired. To say the least, the optimism of young
rural Tibetan men is risky. It assumes endless
growth, and unending opportunity to gain a
foothold in the market economy, doing unskilled
work. Many young rural Tibetans are already
heavily indebted, having already taken loans to
buy trucks or tractors, which do make profits in
an expanding economy, but may not if the boom stalls.

These are dangers young rural Tibetans are not
well equipped to assess. On one hand, the danger
is that China's centrally-driven boom slows or
stalls, taking away today's opportunities of
"going for income." On the other hand, if China's
plans for Tibet succeed in urbanising at a fast
pace, new entrepreneurs with more capital and
technology available to them will take over the
chicken and sheep fattening feedlots, squeezing
out small scale Tibetan businesses. This is
exactly what has happened to China's chicken
industry, according to the UN Food & Agriculture
Organisation: "Over recent decades, China has
seen an enormous increase in production of
poultry meat and eggs. Dramatic improvements in
transport infrastructure since the mid-1980s have
facilitated the rapid intensification of the
poultry sector. Railways are especially important
for feed distribution and roads for transport of
poultry products. In 1985, production was
dominated by more than 150 million small-scale
poultry farmers, each keeping a few birds to
supplement other farming activities. Since then,
there has been a rapid increase in
intensification, with a trend towards fewer,
larger, privately owned operations. Between 1996
and 2005, some 70 million smallscale poultry
farmers left the sector. Over the same period,
largescale operations (with annual output of more
than 10 000 birds) expanded their share of
production from about onequarter to one-half.
Today, the commercial broiler market is dominated
by large, integrated companies that control the
entire production and marketing chain: feed,
breeding, fattening and processing. Between 1985
and 2005, the proportion of farming households
that kept poultry fell from 44 percent to less
than 14 percent. However, backyard producers play
a marginal role, if any, in meeting burgeoning
market demand. As food marketing channels extend
their reach ever further into the rural areas,
and nonfarm employment options increase, the need
for rural households to keep poultry is
declining. In China, the livestock sector in
general is becoming less important as a source of
income for small-scale farmers. The contribution
of this sector to incomes fell from 14 percent in
1990 to 9 percent in 2005. In addition, rural
populations are reported to be becoming less
tolerant of the nuisance, such as flies and
odour, caused by backyard livestock."[5]


There are wider criteria relevent to assessing
the merits of Beijing's "people first" projects
in rural TAR. Projects which raise incomes and
even achieve development for the poor still need
to be assessed in terms of their long term trend.
In the long term, China is urbanising, at an
amazing pace, and all China's planning strategies
equate urbanisation with wealth accumulation.
This affects rural Tibet too. At what point will
the young men labouring on building sites in
Lhasa consider themselves to belong to Lhasa,
only visiting their rural village occasionally?
At what point will rural chicken coops be
replaced by industrial scale chicken factories,
putting small scale producers out of business?
The trend, always, is for bigger scale and the
competitive efficiencies that come with increased
scales of production and the intensive
concentrations of consumers who live in cities.
China's long term plan for Tibet has for decades
been urbanisation, both of Tibetans and
immmigrant nonTibetans, in polyglot cities in
which Tibetans have no particular place.

What gets low priority in China's "people first"
program for TAR is what rural economists have
identified as having the biggest positive impact
on poverty in rural areas. Xiaobo Zhang and
Shenggen Fan, of the International Food Policy
Research Institute identify the most effective
way of reducing poverty, especially in remote
areas of western China, is to invest in
education. "Increasing public investment in the
less-developed western region will lead to a
decline in regional disparity. Additional
investments in education and agricultural R&D
(research and development) in the western region
are the two most powerful ways of reducing
regional inequality. The poor own little physical
capital and their most important resources are
their own human capital. Therefore building human
capital through education in the less developed
region will enhance labour productivity and
improve workers' mobility to seek better job
opportunities, thereby benefiting the vast poor
population residing in the region."[6]

Of the 100 billion yuan announced in 2006 as the
TAR FYP11 budget for centrally funded
developmnent projects, 80 per cent went, as
usual, to big infrastructure projects. The
remaining 20 per cent was meant for "people
first" rural projects, and very little went on
improvining the quality, or usefulness of education to rural Tibetan families.


The difficulties of implementing such income
generating programs are many, as the TAR
experience during FYP11 show; but if such
preferential programs are to be introduced in
Tibetan counties and prefectures of Qinghai,
Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan, the objections,
obstructions, opportunities for corrupt rent
seeking and cadre resistance to reform will all be much greater.

This will be especially true in Qinghai, where
official programs to provide housing are targeted
at sedentarising pastoral nomads, at a cost of
depriving them of their livelihoods, herds and
rights to use land, all taken away in the name of
watershed conservation. This is far from a
disinterstyed poverty alleviation programme in
which the state has no stake. Qinghai cadres have
been particularly unyielding in their attitude
towards the basic needs of the pastoral nomads
who in turn failed to commercialise meat
production, dashing Chinese dreams of Tibet as a source of endless meat.

It is hard to imagine a change of direction,
after decades of restricting herd size, land
size, family size, and nomadic mobility; to
suddenly enhancing Tibetan livelihoods.

So we need to understand the capacity, at
provincial, prefectural and country levels, for
the entrenched bureaucracy to both resist
Beijing, and to divert official funding to their
own ends. We need to understand the alternative
opportunities such officials have to enrich
themselves by capturing official funds. We need
to look at the profit opportunities min today's
China, and where all the 2009 stimulus money,
publicly flagged for increasing rural incomes, actually went.

The new focus on rural incomes will now include
the millions of poor rural Tibetans living not in
TAR but in Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu. If
there is serious intent behind this rhetoric, it
means overriding those provincial vested
interests, and a significant shift in allocation
of finance for rural development. Nowhere would
such a shift be greater than in Qinghai, a huge
area rapidly desertifying which counts Tibetans
as only 19 per cent of the population, but by
area 95 per cent of the land is designated as
Tibetan. A large immigrant population of Han
Chinese and Hui Hui Muslim Chinese are crowded
into the lowlands of eastern Qinghai, just
upriver from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu. Above
these valleys is the vast plateau of Tibet,
across which stretch China's only effective
all-weather transport links to TAR and Lhasa.

The reality of Qinghai today is that four fifths
of the population live either in the capital,
Xining, or within 150 kms of Xining, so the
remaining fifth, which happens to be the Tibetan
fifth, can be largely ignored or even displaced
by statist programs to grow grass to conserve
watersheds. Although Xining in 1949 had a
population of 70,000 and was little more than a
camel market and Muslim warlord base, it is now
among the countless Chinese cities of a million
people. Party cadres in Qinghai have long made
full use of this recent population shift, and the
eclipse of the Tibetans. Qinghai is depicted as a
multi-ethnic province in which Tibetans have no
special place. If anything, the scatter of the
Tibetans across such huge stretches of alpine
semi-desert means they must wait their turn for
development, since other areas, being more
densely settled, are more easily developed with the finances available.

If there really is a new policy, from the central
leaders, promoting people first rural
development, especially among rural Tibetans,
there will be entrenched opposition from many
vested interests. Almost every Qinghai provincial
level bureaucracy has a strong stake in extending
agricultural knowledge, industrialisation,
hydropower, highway construction etc to the areas
already best favoured, in and around Xining, and
they can turn to conventional economics of
location to back them, since the areas of most
intensive Han and Hui Hui Chinese Muslim
settlement also happen to be closest to the rest
of the Chinese economy, with the best linkages.
By comparison, the Tibetan areas have attracted
very little provincial or national funding,
unless a national highway or rail route runs
through. Schools and primary health clinics are
appallingly poor and low standard, since they
have to rely almost entirely on locally raised funds.

Qinghai cadres learned to be adept in eliciting
funding from central leaders, not by forever
depicting the Tibetans as splittists, as in TAR,
but by defining Qinghai as "China's Number One
Water Tower." China's two great rivers, the
Yellow (Huang He in Chinese, Ma Chu in Tibetan)
and the Yangtze (Changjiang or Dri Chu) both rise
in Qinghai, as does the Mekong as well. Despite
Qinghai's increasing aridity, these rivers
continue to flow, due largely to their origins in
glacier fields now rapidly shrinking. This gave
Qinghai a place in China's national imaginary.
Eventually that led to a 21st century policy of
tuimu huancao, closing pastures to grazing, to
grow more grassland. The Tibetan nomads were
evicted from their lands, with no redress,
officially labelled “ecological migrants” who had
patriotically volunteered to sacrifice their
livelihoods for the greater good of conserving
the watersheds of the Sanjiangyuan, the source of the three great rivers.

Qinghai policy towards rural Tibetans has
alternated between neglect and punitive
interventions to restrict how many children a
family may have, how much land nomads may lease,
how big a herd nomads may graze, and now whether
nomads have anay land at all, or must live on a
reservation, built of cinderblock, in the middle
of nowhere, their entire livelihood now banned.

If Qinghai were to genuinely turn towards meeting
the basic human needs of its one million rural
Tibetans, there is a huge backlog to remedy.
Among the more urgent unmet needs are the high
rate of parasitic infectious disease, among the
highest in the world, a result of overcrowding
and lack of basic hygiene education; malnutrition
among children with resulting stunted growth,
poor schools that produce poor students and
ongoing high rates of illiteracy. The list of
basic needs an increasingly wealthy China has ignored is long.

We also need to understand the accumulated cost
to rural Tibetans in Qinghai and elsewhere
outside TAR, of persistent neglect and
under-investment in basics such as education, and
rehabilitating degraded grasslands. The experts
say education is the best possible investment, in
poor areas of China, in increasing incomes and
alleviating poverty. But spending on poor schools
remains the responsibility of poor counties, poor
townships and poor parents. In Qinghai in recent
years, far from adapting the school year to the
seasonal production cycle of both farmers and
pastoral nomads, the schools have extended not
the summer holidays, when children can help
parents with production, but the winter holidays
instead. The reason is simple. The schools are so
poor, their facilities so rudimentary, that
children freeze in unheated classrooms that often
have no windowglass, no desks or stools, and no
canteen where children can sit indoors to eat.
Some schools even struggle to collect enough
dried animal dung as fuel for heaters to keep at
least the staffroom warm. The result of such dire
poverty is that winter holidays are stretched, in
recognition of the reality that children chilled to the marrow cannot learn.

China's 2010 Work Forum did say all Tibetan areas
from now on will be included in the fast track
development programs. If Beijing is serious about
this, it will mean major behavioural changes in
attitude among cadres at provincial level and
below, if there is to be anything like a "people
first" approach. In TAR, where almost all rural
people are Tibetan, and the eyes of the world are
watching how China treats Tibetans, a new 'people
first' approach has been trialled over the FYP11
years of 2006 to 2010, with mixed results.

But in rural Qinghai, rural Gansu, Sichuan and
Yunnan, Tibetans are small minorities, competing
with other neglected communities, often extremely
poor; all of whom have long been ignored by
cadres focussed exclusively on wealth creation
opportunities in the cities. A new deal for rural
Tibetans in these areas, if the Work Forum is
serious, will be hard to achieve, going against a well established grain.

This analysis suggests the 2010 Work Forum's
inclusion of all Tibetan areas will be
problematic, and strongly resisted by cadres well
practiced in diverting funds away from Tibetan
areas. If the Work Forum is serious about its new
approach, and serious about the slogans of
development putting people first, Tibetans need
to assess the forthcoming 12th Five Year Plan,
soon to bne announced, with a clear understanding
of China's long term goal of urbanising Tibet. We
also need to know more about development, what
works and what doesn't, to appreciate the unique
situation of poor rural Tibetans who are to be
the target of FYP12 programs in the years to 2015.

1. Warning as unrest grows, Radio Free Asia 17
Feb 2010,
2. Melvyn Goldstein, Geoff Childs and Buchung
Wangdi (Puchung Wangdui), Beijing's 'People
First' development initiative for the Tibet
Autonomous Region's rural sector -a case study
from the Shigatse area, China Journal #63, Jan 2010, 58-75
3. Tibet statistical yearbook 2008, Table 8-18,
Per capita living expenditure of rural households p 129
4. UN Food & Agriculture Organisation, The State
of food and agriculture: Livestock in the Balance, p 11, 2009
5. UNFAO Livestock in the Balance, 2009, p 44
6. Xiaobo Zhang and Shenggeng Fan, Public
investment and regikonal inequality in rural
China, 176-196 in Shenggen Fan ed., Regional
Inequality in China, Routledge, 2009
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