Unesco declares China's Hoh Xil nature reserve a heritage site

Pro-Tibet group upset by decision saying it endorses China’s ‘ambitious policies including the displacement of Tibetan nomads from their land’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 4:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 10:51pm

Unesco on Friday declared the Hoh Xil nature reserve in northwestern China’s Qinghai province a natural heritage site in a controversial decision challenged by pro-Tibet activists.

The reserve, located on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is home to more than 200 animal species, of which at least 20, including the Tibetan antelope, are state-protected. It is China’s largest world natural heritage site, covering an area of 45,000 sq km.

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“Just inscribed as @UNESCO #WorldHeritage Site: Qinghai Hoh Xil, #China,” the UN’s cultural arm tweeted during its World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow, Poland.

A handful of pro-Tibet activists protested earlier this week while the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) advocacy group warned that giving Hoh Xil heritage status could have consequences for Tibet.

“The Hoh Xil nature reserve on the Tibetan plateau ... is in the middle of three major nature reserves that increasingly exclude normal Tibetan land use such as nomadic herding, situate the state as the sole agency of control, and encourage mass tourism,” the ICT said in a statement on Thursday.

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“The inscription of Hoh Xil without further detailed assessment would effectively signify endorsement from the international cultural heritage body of China’s ambitious policies including the displacement of Tibetan nomads from their land,” it added.

China has invested billions of dollars into resettling Tibetan herders, who have for centuries led a nomadic life, moving regularly to seek fresh grazing for their animals.

Beijing has said that the policy is aimed at improving nomads’ living standards, creating markets for their livestock and the traditional herbal medicines they gather as well as curbing rampant environmental degradation on the roof of the world.

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But while some Tibetans welcome the changes, many worry about the disappearance of a lifestyle that has endured for hundreds of years, and see the resettlements as part of a broader erosion of Tibetan culture in China.

China’s representative insisted at the Unesco meeting on Friday that Beijing would never engage in forced resettlement on the Hoh Xil reserve, Polish news agency PAP reported.