Authorities are facing unusual criticism over mining projects

Chinese authorities are facing unusual criticism over mining projects in Tibet from both Tibetan writers and a number of prominent Chinese public figures, in the wake of landslips on Friday that left at least 83 people buried in a county near Lhasa.

As of Sunday, 11 bodies had been recovered from the site near the mining centre of Maizhokunggar, Xinhua news agency reported, leaving at least 72 people missing under piles of debris and rocks.

Several thousands troops and armed police have been carrying out recovery work since Friday, with President Xi Jinping calling on authorities to “spare no efforts”.

The disaster, which took place at a polymetal gold and copper mine has stirred a rare debate in China on a sensitive issue for the government.

While environmental groups and Tibetan exiled groups have long highlighted the adverse impact of mining project on the plateau’s ecosystem, Friday’s landslip also brought unusual — and unprecedented — criticism from Chinese bloggers, filmmakers and even singers.Television director Zhang Ronggui said he was “strongly opposed to the development of heavy industry and mineral resources in Tibet” in a widely forwarded post on Sunday on the Chinese Twitter equivalent Sina Weibo.

“It is the world’s highest and purest holy land, and I hope the government can leave a blue sky, clean water and white clouds for the next generation,” he wrote. His post, as of Sunday night, had been forwarded by more than 8,000 people.

Well-known singer, Zhang Yihe, in a message to her 339,000 fans, said: “I don’t understand why we have to dig up gold in areas that are above 4,000 metres. Why must we also build dams on rivers, including the Yarlung Zangbo? Why don’t we leave something for the next generation?” Other writers have also said the close relationships between local Communist Party officials and influential state-run companies have often resulted in environmental concerns and livelihood issues of local communities being ignored in mining projects, not only in Tibet but elsewhere in China.

Local opposition

Beijing-based Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser, who has written about environmental problems in Tibet, wrote in a blog post on Saturday that the plateau’s environment had been ruined by aggressive projects put forward by state-owned companies. “Unchecked mining has polluted the water, sickened animals and humans, forced herdsmen to move, and now, resulted in a huge landslide.”

The sensitive ecological environment of the plateau has, however, raised particular concerns over recent mining projects in the TAR, which holds vast untapped mineral resources.

The Gyama mine, the site of Friday’s landslip, was reported to have been the site of clashes between miners and locals four years ago.

Last year, however, the project was selected as a pilot “national green mine”, a move that required it to meet a higher level of safety and environmental standards, according to Tenzin Norbu, who examines environmental issues in Tibet for the so-called exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamsala.

The incidents, he said, had highlighted the need “to ensure active participation of Tibetan people” in decision-making and a full investigation into “environmental and cultural impacts”.

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