China Going Ahead With Resettlement


Tue 22 Jan 2002

BEIJING (AP) - China is moving 17,000 mostly Chinese and Muslim settlers to a traditionally Tibetan region in its remote west, reviving a plan abandoned after protests by critics of China's Tibetan policies.

The settlers are to occupy a former labor camp in Dulan county, an arid stretch of the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai province, some 1,000 miles west of Beijing, according to provincial officials. Irrigation works are being built and improvements made to existing farmland, Zou Hanbin, a spokesman for the Dulan county government, said in a telephone interview.

The project's revival fulfills a pledge by China to go it alone following a battle pitting the Tibetan government in exile and its supporters against Chinese leaders, who say resettlement is an effective way to develop western China. The World Bank got involved in the Dulan project in the late 1990s, saying it would give 60,000 people a better life. It agreed to lend China $40 million to cover half the cost.

Tibetan activists condemned the plan, contending it would dilute Qinghai's Tibetan character and ravage the local environment by increasing demands for water and farmland. They lobbied the bank to order new inspections and a second approval vote. China rejected the new conditions and withdrew its loan application in July 2000.

World Bank officials said they worried about harm to relations with China. Beijing is the bank's biggest borrower and has used loans for roads, dams and other anti-poverty projects regarded as successful. China has resettled millions of people since the 1949 revolution to improve their economic lot.

The plan in Qinghai was comparatively small, but caused an uproar because it would dilute the indigenous Tibetan population in the sparsely settled area. Tibetan activists complain that China's government is flooding their traditional homelands with settlers from the country's majority Han ethnic group.

Qinghai is slightly larger than Texas, but has just 5 million people. Most of it was traditionally inhabited by Mongolian and Tibetan herders and claimed as part of historical Tibet. The area targeted for resettlement is dry but starkly beautiful, with green river valleys, eroded hills and snowcapped mountains.

The original plan would have reduced the Tibetan portion of Dulan county's population from 23 percent to 14 percent, with members of the Han and a Muslim ethnic group called the Hui in the majority.

In the new plan, Qinghai officials say they will move smaller groups in stages. Zou said $80 million is earmarked for the project. He said preparatory work began in September but didn't know when the first settlers would move in. Figures on the ethnicity of settlers aren't available, but Qinghai Vice Governor Bai Ma said last year that China was sticking closely to the World Bank plan.

John Ackerly, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, which led opposition to the World Bank's involvement, said he was heartened the project would move only a fraction of those initially envisioned.

``Our position was always that the World Bank should not be involved in such a project, even if the project would go forward at some level,'' Ackerly said in an e-mail exchange with The Associated Press.

Ackerly rejected claims by World Bank officials that their involvement would have helped to enforce environmental and humanitarian safeguards. He said the bank never had much influence on China's planning or methods.

The former chief of the World Bank mission in Beijing, Pieter Botterlier, who was involved in the earlier plan, said he couldn't comment on the current Chinese activities without more information. Botterlier, now retired and a World Bank adviser, has called the project one of the most contentious in the bank's 55-year history. But he said it deserved consideration for its benefits to local people.

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