Tibetans in Dharamshala held a candlelight vigil to protest the destruction of a 99-foot statue of the Buddha in Kham Drago in Kardze Prefecture. Along with the statue, the authorities also destroyed 45 huge prayer wheels that had been constructed near Drago monastery. The Chinese demolition of the statue in end December 2021 happened after the demolition in October 2021 of a school attached to the Drago Monastery in Sichuan Province. The destruction of a Buddha statue that had been officially approved six years ago, shows that China intends to keep tight control over religion in Tibet at any cost. The destruction of Tibetan culture and identity apart, the world also needs to hold China responsible for complete neglect of Tibet’s ecosystem as we shall presently see.
In late October 2021, local Chinese authorities in Kham Drago had condemned the Gaden Rabten Namgyaling, a school administered by Drago Monastery, and monastery officials were ordered to demolish the school building in three days with the threat that a government team would destroy the building and confiscate school property if it was not done by them. More recently Chinese authorities in Drago County demolished a 99-foot statue of Buddha, as well as 45 huge prayer wheels that had been erected near Drago monastery, Tibet Watch notes. Wang Dongsheng, the county chief is said to be responsible for the demolition. Wang was involved earlier in the destruction of Larung Gar Buddhist Academy also in Sichuan Province. The huge Buddha statue was first built in 2015 with a financial contribution of 4,000,00 Yuan (US$ 6.3 million), whereas 1,800,000 Yuan (around US$ 282,500 million) was spent on the prayer wheels by local Tibetans set in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. The demolition took place from 12 December onwards with “military troops heavily deployed in the crossroads of its vicinity to prevent any form of protest,” according to Tibet Watch.
The statue was formally established because the Buddhists believe that it would prevent famine, war and potential catastrophes of fire, water, earth and air. Local authorities, at the time of demolition, invalidated the documents related to the construction and said that the statue’s height was not allowed in the vicinity. The Tibet Watch report states that “This tragic wave of demolition follows the forced demolition of the nearby Gaden Namgyal Monastic School in late October 2021. As a result, over a hundred of its young students were expelled and ordered an immediate return to their homes.” The Dharamshala vigil in December 2021 was a reminder to the people of Tibet of the support they have from outside Tibet and of China’s repressive policies.
While the wanton destruction of Tibetan culture and identity by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a well-known fact, the destruction of Tibet’s ecosystem remains less known. A US-based journal (Jianli Yang, Providence, 28 December 2021) has recently claimed that China is dumping toxic waste in Tibet and further that it does not provide adequate resources to the region to protect its ecosystem. The carbon footprint of China’s industrial activities, mining of lithium, and mining for nuclear minerals in Tibet has deeply affected the monsoon cycle in the region claims Providence, a US based journal. China has also repeatedly ignored the Montreal Protocol, which explicitly bans the use of hydrocarbons, according to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. This has caused drastic harm to the ozone layer that envelops the Earth’s atmosphere and protects us from harmful UV rays. Excessive industrial mining has not only robbed Tibet of its natural resources but has also left the land barren and infertile.
This wilful negligence of Tibet’s ecosystems led overseas Tibetan communities to come together during COP26. They voiced their concerns about Tibet’s fragile environment and its importance to the world. Two days ahead of the COP26 inaugural in November 2021, the Dalai Lama, in a video message, had reiterated his concerns about the effects of climate change impacting the Tibetan Plateau — the world’s ‘third pole’. “At least in Asia, Tibet is the ultimate source of water. We should pay more attention to preservation of Tibetan ecology” the Dalai Lama said. A Washington Post story (26, December 2016) noted that Tibetans in Sichuan province had seen and felt the impact of the large lithium mine in the region on their environment. The land they worshipped was threatened and the river their animals drink from became poisoned.
Earlier, reports emerged of a sudden mass death of fish in Lichu River in Minyak Lhagang, Dartsedo County in Karze Prefecture due to the release of contaminated waste from the mine. This brought hundreds of local Tibetans out on the street, who protested against Gangzhi Rongda Lithium Co Ltd that had released mine waste into the Lichu River, a tributary of Nakchu/Yalong river, which merges with Yangtse river downstream. Downstream, precious yaks died from drinking the contaminated water.
Lichu river incident is not the only instance of environmental degradation. Others include the open-pit Muli coal mine in Tsonub (Haixi) Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai province, which spread a layer of black coal dust across the landscape, causing grassland degradation and the loss of permafrost. Similarly, the Jiajika Lithium mine in Lhagang (Tagong) township, Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, in the Kham region, twice (first in October 2013 and then in May 2016) leaked toxic chemicals into the local water supply, killing fish and local livestock. Thus, the Chinese are fully aware of the damage their policies cause to Tibet’s environment but are unwilling to do anything about it. Now we know the reason why China did not attend CoP26!
Just how serious the environmental crisis in Tibet due to China’s policies is highlighted in written testimony by the International Campaign for Tibet for the Congressional/Executive Commission on China Hearing (21 September 2021). The testimony points to the wanton destruction of Tibet’s forests and the large-scale and forcible re-location of Tibetan nomads from their homelands. Data sources claim that over 1.8 million Tibetan nomads had been settled into sedentary households in a bid to undermine Tibetan identity and to profit from mining, logging, and damming Tibet’s rivers. China is destroying the world’s third pole, i.e., Tibet. The world must hold it responsible for this and make it accountable. If this is not done today, the world will pay for China’s deliberate lust for minerals with the lives of future generations.