Politics: Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

We noted in 21 New #WorldHeritage Sites! that there was some political controversy over the inscriptions this year. Since around here we firmly believe that you should be an informed traveller, we’re going to present the arguments on each side and let you form your own opinion.

First up, the new Natural site inscribed for China:

Qinghai Hoh Xil 

Qinghai Hoh Xil, located in the north-eastern extremity of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year-round. The site’s geographical and climatic conditions have nurtured a unique biodiversity. More than one third of the plant species, and all the herbivorous mammals are endemic to the plateau. The property secures the complete migratory route of the Tibetan antelope, one of the endangered large mammals that are endemic to the plateau.

We wandered through It on our way to Tibet; it can be a rather scenic place,

Qinghai Hoh Xil (1)

… although quite honestly it mostly looks more like this.

Qinghai Hoh Xl (2)l


What would be controversial about protecting that, you might think? Well…

UNESCO approves controversial World Heritage Tibet nomination despite concerns

Krakow – In a highly charged political environment today a UNESCO committee voted to approve a controversial application by the Chinese government to inscribe a vast Tibetan area as a World Heritage site, although it contravenes values and guidelines of the international cultural body…

Kai Mueller, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet in Germany, responded to the decision in Krakow today, saying: “The decision to go forward with this nomination without any amendments or fuller assessment reveals more about the political considerations of members of the Committee than a genuine concern for protecting natural and cultural heritage for the world. China has a long record of relocating Tibetan herders and violating their rights. UNESCO has supported without question this nomination, which emerges from policies that exclude normal Tibetan land use such as nomadic herding, situate the state as the sole agency of control, and encourage mass tourism, despite clear guidelines underpinning the World Heritage Convention…

“The Committee ignored the reality that Tibetans – and nomads in particular – are stewards of the landscape whose role is essential to sustaining the wildlife, the long-term health of the ecosystems, and the water resources that China and Asia depend upon. We will now seek to hold the relevant international bodies to account in order to rigorously scrutinize the consequences and impact on the ground of this decision.”

… In her statement to the Committee following the decision, Tibetan scholar Tenzin Choekyi said that the role of Tibetans in preserving the natural and cultural heritage of their homeland to the degree that has allowed it to be considered as World Heritage in the first place must be noted. 

She said: “This was a serious decision before Committee members. They could have decided to help ensure the survival of the nomadic traditions of one of the richest spiritual cultures in the world. China seeks to convince the world that its policies are solely aimed at conservation and protection. But the Chinese government is imposing policies to displace nomadic pastoralists across the plateau. It is a massive social engineering campaign that threatens to eviscerate a sustainable way of life uniquely adapted to the harsh landscape of the high plateau. This is despite a scientific consensus in the PRC and beyond that indigenous stewardship and herd mobility are essential to the health of the rangelands and help to mitigate climate change.”

For a presentation of the Chinese side, let’s visit

UNESCO declares China’s Hoh Xil nature reserve a heritage site

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 says 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.

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 Friday that Beijing would never engage in forced resettlement on the Hoh Xil reserve, according to the Polish news agency PAP.

Personally, where we come down on this one is that the UNESCO decision was correct, for the simple reason that now the status of the nomads will be guaranteed to have international attention —

— forced resettlement and so forth would be a lot more likely to happen without the eyes of the world on this new World Heritage Site!

But if you have an opposing view, feel free to add your comments; we’re quite aware that a quick visit doesn’t make us any kind of expert, and more knowledgeable opinions are always welcome!



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Alex Curylo


I go places.

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