Tibet has been an integral part of China since ancient times. But before the peaceful liberation of Tibet by the Communist Party of China in 1951, most of the local people lived in abject poverty.
A large number of historical accounts before 1951 reflect the terrible public health and hygiene conditions in Tibet. For example, beggars and stray dogs roamed the streets and sewage and waste were everywhere, even in the center of Lhasa, capital of the Tibet. Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese monk, was shocked by the filth and poverty in the city when he visited Lhasa in 1901. In his account, he wrote that the roadside ditches in Lhasa were full of manure.
After Tibet's peaceful liberation, the central government built modern hospitals and health institutes, drastically improved resource management, and took measures to increase local people's incomes. Thanks to the authorities' years of efforts, an ecological civilization has gradually developed in both urban and rural areas of Tibet. For instance, the central authorities took special measures to ensure the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which started operation in 2006, did not affect the fragile environment, especially the meadows, of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The measures, in fact, helped improve the ecological environment in some areas during the construction of the railway.
In recent years, several laws have been implemented to better protect Tibet's ecological environment. Large infrastructure facilities such as airports, highways, power grids and hydropower stations have not affected the region's environment thanks to scientific planning and proper protection measures－on the contrary, local residents have benefited financially from these projects and started using clean energy to create a healthy ecological protection system.
In some forest areas, the local authorities have built houses with eco-friendly materials so that residents stop chopping down trees to build houses.
Way back in 2009, the central government formulated the Plan for Ecological Safety Barrier Protection and Improvement in Tibet (2008-30) with the aim of building a foolproof ecological safety barrier in the region by 2030.
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, pays special attention to Tibet's ecology. At the sixth and the seventh Central Symposiums on Tibet Work in 2015 and 2020 respectively, Xi emphasized the importance of better protecting the ecological environment of Tibet. And during an inspection tour of Tibet from July 21 to 23, he stressed the importance of stability, development and ecological conservation in the region's sustainable growth.
On a trip to Nyingchi－which has become a role model of ecological protection in Tibet－on July 21, Xi visited the Nyang River Bridge to inspect the work of ecological conservation in the Yarlung Zangbo River basin, and its tributary, the Nyang River.
Speaking at a meeting on the conclusion of his tour July 23, Xi called for conservation and promotion of biodiversity on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
With an ecological environment that is different from the south of the Himalayas, Tibet is a unique natural security barrier for China. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau protects China from natural disasters caused by South Asian sub-continental climate. Besides, the complex climate system on the plateau plays an important role in stabilizing China's climate.
Tibet is called the "Water Tower of Asia" because its vast glaciers are the source of major Asian rivers. Moreover, the increasing number of hydropower stations in Tibet has benefited local people and those in neighboring countries.
Therefore, river protection is an important part of ecological protection in Tibet. By protecting the source of the major rivers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China has also improved the living and working conditions of the Chinese people not only in Tibet but also in the rest of the country, as well as strengthened its relationship with neighboring countries. For example, China has been cooperating with India to record and manage the water flow in cross-border rivers.
Xi's speeches in Tibet highlight the new development philosophy for the region. And Tibet will adopt eco-friendly industrial strategies to ensure its sustainable development.
(Zhang Yongpan, researcher of the Chinese Borderland Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.The views do not necessarily reflect those of this platform.)