Geologists were promoted as revolutionary heroes, the propaganda machine waxing lyrical about their vastly exaggerated finds. This reveals how the image of Tibet as an untapped Eldorado (however inaccurate that might be) has arisen, and why ownership and exploitation of those resources remains key to China’s vision for itself.
Second, Lafitte makes the case that far from helping Tibet’s assimilation through economic development, mineral exploitation will not only fail but further destabilise the region. Proven reserves are, in global terms, meagre and not economically viable to extract; the associated social and environmental costs, which might have been acceptable in the 1990s, can no longer be justified to the international community; and the displacement of Tibetan herders and exclusion of Tibetans from involvement in the mining industry is already causing widespread unrest.
Spoiling Tibet is a strange and not wholly accessible combination of mining and economics, traditional Tibetan beliefs and history, politics and environmentalism. This multifaceted approach is no doubt intended to broaden its appeal, but it necessitates picking through a morass of verbiage to get to the crucial points. Lafitte raises many important issues, but more critical editing would have helped them come to the fore and stimulate discussion on what can be done to minimise yet more damage to Tibet’s environment and its people.
SPOILING TIBET: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World by Gabriel Lafitte, Zed Books, £16.99