According to a recent report by the South China Morning Post (April 22, 2017), the Chinese government is planning to turn whole of the Tibetan Plateau into a mega national park.
National parks are created to preserve ecology as well as its cultural heritage. China’s plan of converting whole of the Tibetan Plateau into a national park is an arduous task, but not impossible since many areas in Tibet have been already declared national parks, such as, the Qinghai Golmud Kunlun Mountain National Park, Jomolangma National Park, Namtso Nyenchen tanglha National Park, Guge National Park and many more.
The Chinese government designates a particular site as national park aiming for ecological sustainability. Provincial and local governments are given responsibilities to operate national parks with no further direction. However, local governments do not have sufficient funds for construction and operation of national park and hence it encourages private sectors to engage in initial infrastructure development and permitting them to operate park for a time period. Private sectors profit from the ticket sales for park entry and other recreational activities in the park. They develop sites within the national park at scenic spots by building hotels, resorts and restaurants. This defeats the objectives to preserve nature and to protect biodiversity and its ecosystem.
Chinese scholars and environmentalists have often critiqued the concept of national park and many argue whether they are for conservation or are aimed at commercialisation. China has followed the United States’ method of monitoring its national park without understanding the unified system of governance in United States against the fragmented and often overlapping environmental governance in China.
China’s plan of national parks in some of the areas in mainland China encouraged large number of tourists, but a severe loss in biodiversity and its plan to convert Tibetan Plateau into “The Last Piece of Pure Earth” can be considered as the first call to bring tourism to the whole of Tibet. China gained such confidence from success in tourism industry in certain Tibetan cities (Lhasa, Nyingtri and Gyalthang). China’s need to construct huge area of national park in recent times is mainly because of emerging middle class with growing interests in outdoor recreational activities and this demand for public recreational sites and hugely profitable tourism sector attract state to build more number of national parks. The impact of tourism is evident in Lhasa where the majority of tourists are Chinese and they have their plans tailored to benefit Chinese businesses providing accommodation and food.
China’s plan of converting the whole of Tibet to a national park not necessarily mean a positive effort towards nature conservation. On August 2013, there were reports of mining on a sacred mountain in Zatoe region of north-eastern Tibet. The area is under the jurisdiction of Sangjiangyuan National Nature Reserve. The local Tibetans of Zatoe County protested against the mining company but were violently suppressed by Chinese armed forces. In the year 2003, Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve, (head source of three rivers) was declared as a national-level nature reserve. Nature reserves are highly protected areas where development projects like mining and tourism are strictly prohibited, and national parks are built keeping in mind the economic and social development. When local authorities mismanage a national-level reserve for their economic benefit as evident in Zatoe, there is a clear picture of what Tibet will turn into once it is designated as the third pole national park.
*Tenzin Palden is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.