UNESCO turns Tibetan land into World Heritage Site after controversial Chinese proposal

Tibetan Nomads
Tibetan Nomads
10th July 2017

On Friday, UNESCO added Kokoxili in Tibet to its World Heritage list, despite Tibetan objections

UNESCO has granted world heritage status to a large swathe of Tibet’s land, despite opposition from Tibetans and Tibet supporters. The decision was taken by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee last Friday, despite campaigns calling on the organisation to reject China’s bid.

Those opposing the decision say that it will allow Chinese authorities to remove Tibetan nomads from the area, that it further entrench China’s occupation of Tibet and that it could cause long-term damage to the environment.

Kokoxili (Hoh Xil in Chinese) is located in eastern Tibet. It is a beautiful natural zone consisting of lakes and freshwater wetlands. At more than 4,500 metres high, it is home to a diverse range of wildlife including several species unique to the area. It also covers the entire migratory route of the endangered Tibetan antelope.

For centuries Kokoxili has been home to thousands of Tibetan nomads, who have played an important role in the preservation of the landscape.


Nomads' way of life under threat

These nomads, who have traditionally protected Kokoxili’s environment and wildlife, could now be at risk of removal.

Despite the fact that nomads live in the area, China, which boasts fifty World Heritage sites, claims that the land is effectively empty and that its priority is to conserve it from cattle grazing. The recognition of Kokoxili as a world heritage site could give China an excuse to expel these Tibetan nomads, legitimately living there for years.

Chinese representatives claimed that the UNESCO recognition will preserve the area and not harm traditional nomadic culture. Moreover, a UNESCO spokeswoman argued that the Chinese authorities committed into avoiding forced relocations.

The Chinese government has in the past used the pretext of conservation to eject nomads from their lands, initiating a policy in the previous decade to turn a number of farms and pastures in eastern Tibet into forests.

Between 2006 and 2014, 2.3 million rural Tibetans and nomads were transferred from their land into urban settlements. Investigations since then have found that the nomads have struggled to make the transition from self-sufficient farming to living and working in an urban environment. With no means of gaining employment and rising costs, nomads have been forced to sell off their livestock to avoid accumulating unmanageable debts.

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