Questionable international endorsements are highlighted by CPP controlled media, while independent observers and institutions continue to be denied unhindered access to Tibet
Over the weekend, Chinese state media circulated a ‘Lhasa Consensus’ as a result of the ‘Development Forum’, held in Lhasa on July 7-8 (2016), which emphasized the importance of ‘helping the world better understand Tibet’ – political language for endorsement of Chinese Communist Party propaganda. More than 130 researchers, officials and correspondents from over 30 countries attended the conference last week in Lhasa. The Vice President of the Asia Society, the chief economist of the Environmental Defense Fund in the US, a German politician and a French writer were among the participants.
The Lhasa Consensus this year was worded more cautiously than the previous ‘Consensus’ produced after the first meeting of such a group in 2014, when foreign signatories came under fire for endorsing a statement that was hostile to the ‘Dalai Clique’. In comparison, the ‘Consensus’ produced last week used a smokescreen of opaque terminology to attract the backing of foreign delegates and to convince them that China’s policies, which are having a devastating impact on Tibet’s fragile environment, are aimed at conservation of the plateau.
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) is raising questions concerning the integrity of such a forum with individual foreign participants of the conference in Lhasa, including a German politician Markus Rudolph from the political party CDU whose colleague Michael Brand, a German lawmaker who chairs the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee, was refused access to China in May after he criticized rights violations in Tibet.
Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The organization of international gatherings by authoritarian governments to gain legitimacy abroad is not a new effort and is a worrying trend aimed at stifling and isolating local dissenting views in many countries. The participation of individuals representing international organizations in such events needs to be scrutinized, since it fosters the regimes’ propaganda. In the case of Tibet, it is astonishing that foreign individuals representing respectable institutions would endorse Beijing propaganda, while hundreds of Tibetan political prisoners are still in jail for expressing their views and while Tibet continues to be practically sealed off to all independent observers and institutions, such as UN rapporteurs and major international NGOs. Beijing has the economic might to recruit foreign endorsements to its propaganda, it is therefore up to democratic governments, free press, think tanks, NGOs and academics to make sure that the integrity of an open, transparent and democratic debate is preserved when issues concerning the lives of millions of people are discussed. Participating in ‘Potemkin tours’ and failing to raise questions publicly about the information regularly produced by independent observers does not contribute to the credibility of such participants or their institutions.”
The emphasis of the Lhasa Forum was on Tibet’s environment and development, with the language of the Lhasa Consensus seeking to convey the impression that its policies are aimed at conservation. The Tibetan plateau, a global climate change epicenter which is warming nearly three times as fast as the rest of the world, is the source of the earth’s largest river systems, and a critical resource to the world’s ten most densely populated nations surrounding Tibet. But instead of seeking to protect this fragile high-altitude environment, China is building multiple dams on all the major rivers running off the plateau, devastating the landscape with large-scale copper, gold, silver and lithium mining, and intensifying urbanization. Because water and mineral resources are seen as strategic assets by the Communist Party government, Beijing’s policies on Tibet remain exempt from genuine debate and enquiry.
The wording of the Lhasa Consensus was indicative of the authorities’ efforts to convince foreign delegates that the land use policies that are having such a devastating impact are aimed at climate change adaption and mitigation. In this political language, dam-building on a massive scale is described as ‘water conservation construction’ and the displacement of nomadic pastoralists from the ancestral grasslands they have protected for centuries is framed in terms of environmental protection, although the opposite is the case. In a disturbing new development, the Chinese leadership is also seeking to gain endorsement from international institutions and governments for the creation of national parks on the plateau that are contingent upon the removal of nomads from their pastures. Visitors to the Lhasa Forum were even taken on a tour of a relocation site, depicted on state TV.
Christine Davies, Vice President, Global Partnerships, Asia Society, was among those delegates cited by Xinhua as endorsing China’s environmental policies, saying, according to Xinhua: “As we have been informed or reminded through several excellent tours and discussions this week, China intends to make sure that the Tibet Autonomous Region is firmly included in its ambitious nationwide development effort. The infrastructure development plans here are bold and far reaching.” (Xinhua, July 8, 2016).
The Consensus states: “Over years of experimentation and practice, Tibet has embarked on a path of development that suits its unique conditions and yielded encouraging results.”
The Global Times, a state media publication in English, did acknowledge that the delegate Daniel Joseph Dudek, chief economist of the Environmental Defense Fund in the US, had raised some criticisms as well as “praising Tibet for protecting its environment.” According to the article, Mr Dudek had pointed out that some areas of Tibet “have suffered from desertification, land erosion and trans-boundary air pollution” and he suggested a scheme known as ‘habitat exchange’ that aims to keep people on their land as stewards to protect it, which runs counter to the relocation policies of the PRC.
The Chinese government has accelerated implementation of policies to displace nomadic pastoralists from the vast Tibetan grasslands, a massive social engineering campaign that threatens to eviscerate a sustainable way of life uniquely adapted to the harsh landscape of the high plateau. This is despite a scientific consensus in the PRC and beyond that indigenous stewardship and herd mobility is essential to the health of the rangelands and helps mitigate climate change.
Foreign delegates to the last Forum in 2014 also faced controversy, and it is notable that foreigners participating last week must have chosen to take part even despite the language last year of the Lhasa Consensus, which included the statement that: “Participants unanimously agree that what they have actually seen in Tibet differs radically from what the 14th Dalai and the Dalai clique have said. The Dalai clique’s statements on Tibet are distorted and incorrect. Many Western media reports are biased and have led to much misunderstanding. Seeing is believing. Participants express the aspiration to introduce the real Tibet to the world.”
The Dalai Lama’s leadership in efforts to protect Tibet’s environment was highlighted last month by U.S. President Obama, who was cited in a White House statement as saying that he “Welcomed the Dalai Lama’s leadership on climate change issues, and expressed support for the Dalai Lama’s efforts to raise awareness of the importance of limiting global warming, including to protect the Himalayan glaciers and the environment on the Tibetan plateau.”
 Full text of the Consensus: http://english.cctv.com/2016/07/08/ARTIAoc2iH4o5uSNxYlQBLrD160708.shtml. The forum was jointly sponsored by China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) and the People’s Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and hosted by the People’s Government of Lhasa.
 ICT report, August 15, 2014, https://www.savetibet.org/foreign-dignitaries-endorse-ccp-tibet-policy-and-attacks-on-dalai-lama-at-lhasa-conference/
 State media coverage at: China Daily 7 July 2016, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2016-07/07/content_26006440.htm
 Blog by Kai Muller, The Diplomat, May 15, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/china-pressures-europe-to-stay-silent-on-human-rights/
 For detailed reporting on China’s policies on Tibet’s environment see ICT’s report ‘Blue Gold’, https://www.savetibet.org/new-report-reveals-global-significance-of-tibet/
 July 6, 2016, http://english.cctv.com/2016/07/06/VIDEnv45uMQCrbKuKnNJrOPh160706.shtml For detailed reporting on China’s policies on Tibet’s environment see ICT’s report ‘Blue Gold’, https://www.savetibet.org/new-report-reveals-global-significance-of-tibet/
 Global Times, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/992977.shtml
 In the UK, journalists had sought to ask Labour front bench spokesperson Lord Neil Davidson of Glen Clova, Shadow Advocate General for Scotland, about the views he expressed at the 2014 conference, which countered those of his political party. The Chinese state media reported that Lord Davidson agreed with a view expressed at the conference that journalism in the Western media feeds off disinformation from the Dalai Lama to misrepresent the situation in Tibet, and that Lord Davidson added: “The western media merely write people’s happiness in China’s Tibet and know little about the type of development taking place in Tibet.” (China Tibet Online, “Biased western media coverage on Tibet denounced on forum in Lhasa,” posted on August 12, 2014). The UK Labour Party says it remains “deeply concerned about the human rights situation” in Tibet. British journalists were not able to reach Lord Davidson, a practicing barrister in the UK who served on the human rights committee of the Faculty of Advocates, for comment.
 White House statement, June 15, 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/06/15/readout-presidents-meeting-his-holiness-xiv-dalai-lama