CHINA has been accused of launching a campaign similar to the Highland Clearances, with plans to turn Tibet into one of the world’s biggest national parks.

The plans, which have been submitted to UNESCO, would mean great swathes of the Tibetan plateau, known as “the roof of the world”, would be included in the site, dwarfing others around the globe.

The proposed national park is being dubbed the Third Pole National Park because the plateau and mountains, including part of the Himalayas, resemble the polar regions.

According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing says the main purpose of the national park is conservation, which would mean limiting a wide range of economic activities and might force some residents to move.

Yet critics say the plan is part of the long-running campaign by Chinese authorities to control Tibet, which has a tumultuous history around its autonomy.

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According to the Hong Kong newspaper, if approved, the park would be more than 2.5 million square km, overshadowing the world’s current largest in Greenland at 972,000 square km.

However, unlike the Northeast Greenland National Park, which is unpopulated, the proposed park would affect a native population of around 7.8m.

Chinese authorities claim some of this human impact threatens the region’s fragile environment and overgrazing is degrading precious grasslands.

According to the organisation Free Tibet, this would mean the end of Tibetan nomadic life in the region, with the ancient and environmentally-sustainable cultures being lost as a result.

It said: “Numerous scientific reports have corroborated the claim that nomads have a beneficial impact on local ecosystems while campaign groups are concerned that further enforced settlement of nomadic communities will devastate the language, culture and lifestyle of millennia-old peoples.”

Scotland currently has a targeted cross-party Tibet group whose aim is to facilitate the building of relations between the Scottish Parliament, Tibet and its people and those interested in the region.

Its chair, the SNP’s Linda Fabiani, said members of the group had long been concerned about the ongoing clearances of traditional settlements in Tibet.

She said: “The plans for this national park are massive and there is much suspicion that the motivation is less about protection of the land than political expediency related to mineral extraction and ongoing plans.

“The environmental degradation of the Tibetan plateau, displacement of people and disruption of traditional ways of life is ongoing in Tibet, with any protest being silenced or crushed. Extremely sad.”

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Tibet has been in and out of the sphere of Chinese influence for centuries, spending some periods functioning as an independent country and others being ruled by Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.

In 1950 China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region, with some areas becoming known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other parts incorporated into Chinese provinces.

The Dalai Lama, the area’s exiled spiritual leader, fled to India in 1959.

China, which has a long-standing prohibition of separatism, considers the 81-year-old monk a separatist seeking Tibet’s independence. However, the Buddhist leader says he merely advocates substantial autonomy and protection of the region’s native culture.

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Currently the Central Tibetan Administration, commonly known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, is headed by President Lobsang Sangay, in India.

China has said Tibet has developed considerably under its rule, but rights groups say the country has violated human rights and accuse it of political and religious repression.

A spokesman from the Environment & Development Desk of the Tibet Policy Institute of the Central Tibetan Administration said that while they welcomed the move by the Chinese government to declare more national parks and nature reserves across Tibet in recent years, "but the apparent lack of sincere efforts from the government to protect the same nature reserves is startling".

He said: "The latest plan to declare whole of Tibet into a National Park is (therefore) absurd when devoid of a very basic infrastructure and governance necessary to firmly implement the existing environment laws to deal with everyday environmental issues.

"There is a consistent pattern of discrepancies in what the Chinese government seeks to achieve and the ground reality. For example there has been increasing cases of destructive mining in recent years."

He added: "The ineffective implementation of the existing environmental protection laws, the lack of basic infrastructure to protect and preserve Tibet's environment, the lack of institutional action and governance to deal with everyday environmental issues, and the lack of support for local conservation efforts has raised doubts over Chinese government's intentions behind the proposed plan to make the whole of Tibetan plateau into a National Park."

The International Campaign for Tibet, a group fronted by high-profile supporter Richard Gere, said many of the existing mines and dams in resource-rich Tibet will be “drawn around” by zoning authorities, leaving a “patchwork” national park that conveniently bypasses some of the principal water controls and mineral extraction drives.

Others believe the plan may also be part of a process of further boosting tourism numbers to the unspoilt lands of Tibet – in effect creating a giant Tibetan Disneyland.

Speaking in the South China Morning Post, Professor Liu Jingshi, researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, said the Third Pole National Park, if established, would be difficult to manage due to its unprecedented size.

He said it took the United States government decades to figure out how to manage Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, established in 1872. The Third Pole would be more than 250 times larger and with a different kind of natural landscape.

According to reports, UNESCO authorities are set to decide on the fate of the controversial park project on July 2.

The Chinese consulate was approached for a comment.

A giant still in chains threatened by neighbour's staggering land grab

Comment by Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, chief executive, Free Tibet

The history of land clearances is written into the DNA of many nations. The brutality of Scotland’s ‘Highlands Clearances’ in the 1800s, where crofters’ livelihoods and cultures were destroyed, will be familiar to many readers. Now, tragically, similar destruction on a vast scale is plaguing the people of Tibet.

If Tibet were still a sovereign nation it would be the world’s tenth-largest. Yet, this land-locked giant remains in chains – a harsh Chinese military occupation has been in effect for nearly seven decades and it is this brutal occupation that has laid the foundations for a 21st-century land-grab which is staggering in its proportions and shocking in its cynicism.

The Chinese authorities that control Tibet have recently outlined plans to create the ‘Third Pole National Park’ – it is called this on account of the fact that glaciers in Tibetan mountain ranges hold such huge quantities of frozen water.

If this plan goes ahead, great swathes of the Tibetan landmass will be rendered off-limits to virtually all human activity.

In a region with immense, delicate natural landscapes that accommodate many endangered animals and plants creating a national park which the South China Morning Post has reported will be 2.5 million square kilometres in size (over 30 times the size of Scotland) may not appear a bad idea.


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Yet, unlike the largely uninhabited Northeast Greenland National Park – currently the world’s biggest – the proposed conservation area in Tibet is host to a significant human population.

Of this number there are still many hundreds of thousands of nomadic Tibetans who ebb and flow with the seasons, shepherding herds of livestock across the great plains of this enormous plateau.

It is a lifestyle steeped in history and tradition with a deep respect for the natural environment. Under the proposals grazing livestock would be banned, depriving these people of their livelihoods, and casting them asunder.

Turning the area into a national park would prohibit the digging of mines and the damming of rivers.

Nevertheless, experts warn maps of the proposed national park conveniently skirt the edge of existent, damaging projects including heavily-polluting mines and dams that block off rivers, many of which provide water to billions across Asia.

Whether it is a national park displacing traditional herders or a giant open-cast copper mine polluting pristine water systems, the Chinese authorities in Tibet have proven again and again they cannot be trusted with the stewardship of this unique and beautiful region.

Tibetans themselves have maintained a years-long dignified and non-violent campaign for self-determination – and that includes the right to determine how the land considered so valuable to their identity is put to use.

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