Report on relocation program in Xizang ill-intentioned, shows clear bias: experts
Published: May 23, 2024 01:55 AM
The well-off model village in Xiayadong town in Yadong county, Xizang Photo: Courtesy of Lin Lichao

The well-off model village in Xiayadong town in Yadong county, Xizang Photo: Courtesy of Lin Lichao

The recent report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which sensationalized the alleged "forced urbanization" of rural residents in Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region has been strongly criticized by Chinese scholars and local residents. They noted that the ill-intentioned report aims to smear China's human rights situation and it also laid bare the arrogance and ignorance of anti-China forces toward the lives of ethnic groups residing in the region and their rights to development.

HRW, a non-government organization often regarded as one of the tools used by the US to manipulate human rights issues, released the report on Wednesday. It alleged that Chinese government officials are "systematically using extreme forces of pressure" to "coerce" rural residents to relocate from their villages. HRW further claimed that together with programs to "assimilate" Tibetan schooling, culture, and religion, the relocation of rural communities "erodes or causes major damage" to local residents' culture and ways of life.

Those responsible for such a report should spend time experiencing the challenging lives of farmers and pastoralists in the high-altitude regions of Xizang. Only then would they understand how life can become more convenient when offered housing in a more habitable area with improved infrastructure, particularly with access to hospitals and schools, Liang Junyan, a researcher at the Historical Research Institute of the China Tibetology Research Center, told the Global Times.

Liang and her colleagues have conducted field surveys in Tibetan communities in various locations in the Xizang region and adjacent Yunnan Province and they found that local residents were generally satisfied with their lives after relocation.

Liang noted that in some areas, resettlement apartments were even customized to better suit the living habits of Tibetan ethnic groups. For instance, some communities installed stoves and chimneys in apartments of residential buildings, accommodating the preferences of some residents.

The HRW report is also riddled with inaccuracies. Liang noted that pastoralists retain the option to graze their animals in pasturing areas, and their old residences have been preserved so they can return when grazing animals or harvesting cordyceps sinensis. For those seeking employment opportunities, local governments frequently provide vocational skills training programs.

Living in newly constructed apartments tailored to their preferences, and continuing to enjoy their traditional way of life but with improved conditions, it's difficult to argue that the culture of local Tibetan ethnic groups is being eroded.

The Chinese government implements relocation programs with the fundamental goal of ensuring that people of all ethnicities across the country - no matter how remote or underdeveloped their regions may be - can live happy and fulfilling lives and enjoy the fruits of modern development, Jia Chunyang, a research professor at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Xizang, often known as the "Roof of the World" due to its high elevation, presents incredibly challenging natural conditions. Particularly in remote regions, where transportation is difficult and altitudes are extremely high, prolonged exposure to thin air can result in altitude sickness, impacting the health and life expectancy of local residents, according to Jia.

Local governments extend support to residents of these remote areas, especially ethnic minorities, by encouraging or suggesting relocation to more favorable areas with improved conditions and greater economic opportunities, said Jia, noting that ultimately, whether to relocate depends on local residents, as governments will not force them to move and will fully respect their own decisions.

The relocation policy also provides local residents with access to healthcare and ensures that their children receive better education opportunities. This benefits ethnic minorities at both the individual and family levels, as well as the entire ethnic group, by facilitating their transition to modernization, said the expert.

However, some anti-China forces in the West view China's policies with colored glasses and smear China's human rights situation, especially in its Xizang and Xinjiang regions, Jia said, noting anti-China forces' hyping of boarding schools in Xizang as well as the current relocation programs. These are standard tactics, Jia added, aimed at fermenting opinion in the international community.

"The people who wrote the HRW report certainly have not conducted field research in Xizang. And their purpose is similar to their previous hyping of the boarding schools in Xizang - to distort and smear China's policies in the region," said Jia.

This report also reflects the arrogance of some people in the US and the West. In their view, others, especially ethnic minorities, should be left to live primitive lives in their localities, no matter how difficult the conditions, no matter how backward they may be. These are the "human rights" they brag about. But every ethnic group has the right to a better life, said Jia.