It's Losar, the Tibetan New Year, today - but no one is celebrating. This month marks the 50-year anniversary of flight of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama into exile. Fearing a repeat of the 2008 riots - the worst in 20 years - the Chinese government has reportedly sent tens of thousands of troops to preemptively clamp down on unrest in the area.
But others stand to potentially profit from the repressive situation: companies like Canada's Hunter Dickinson/Continental Minerals (HDI), which hopes to mine gold and copper in central Tibet. It's an irony not lost on seven pro-Tibet protesters who disrupted a Toronto mining convention earlier this week by unfurling a fifteen-foot long banner saying "HDI: Stop Mining in Tibet," as a crowd of supporters braved the cold outside.
"It's unconscionable for a Canadian company to be operating inside Tibet when Tibetans are facing a brutal military clampdown and the most repressive conditions in three decades," said Kunga Tsering, president of the Canadian-Tibetan Joint Action Committee, in a statement.
This week protest mirrors similar protests that took place in Vancouver during January, which called attention to the lack of self-determination of Tibetans over their own natural resources. Many pro-Tibet groups assert that these projects that may not only be environmentally-damaging, but could also threaten traditional livelihoods such as pastoralism.
"Under the conditions of the Chinese occupation the Tibetans cannot be part of the process, because they legally have no voice," explained Mati Bernabie, Vice President of the Vancouver Chapter of the Canada Tibet Committee. "If the Tibetans speak out they literally risk arrest, torture and death."
Canadian companies have come under fire for their involvement in questionable projects, from Bombardier, Power Corporation and Nortel's involvement in the China-Tibet railway, to other Canadian companies' exploitation of politically-unstable but minerally-rich regions such as the Congo in a so-called "looter's war".
Respect vs. ethics
Ron Thiessen, chair of Continental Minerals and a partner in the Hunter Dickinson (HDI) project, said: "We respect everyone's right to make statements," but adding unapologetically: "We're not mining yet (in Tibet), we hope to be."
More on Tibet
On the Train to Tibet: Railroading the Roof of the World
Tibet: When "Sustainable" Development Goes Awry
Qinghai-Tibet Rail Green Travel Guide
Canadians Targeted for ControversialTibet Investments (Students for a Free Tibet)
Stop Mining Tibet!