Jul 30, 2002

Shell under fire at AGM over $18 billion gas pipeline project in East Turkestan

UNPO teamed up with Campaign for Tibet International to raise awareness at the Shell annual shareholder’s meeting in The Hague on May 16. UNPO General Secretary Erkin Alptekin and International Secretariat staff attended the meeting along with Campaign for Tibet International supporters, led by Director, Tersing Jampa. Their mission was to raise concerns over Shell’s proposed East West Pipeline project in occupied East Turkestan.

Royal Dutch/Shell Group is leading a consortium, which is set to partner Chinese energy company PetroChina in building the 4,000km pipeline which will link East Turkestan with Shanghai. The consortium would hold a 45% stake in the project, with the remainder retained by 90% state owned PetroChina. The deal, worth an estimated US $18 billion, includes exploration and extraction of gas in the Tarim Basin as well as operation of the pipeline. Tibet campaigners oppose Shell's involvement in the project out of solidarity with the Uighur people, and because it provides investment capital for PetroChina, the company that is also exploiting the natural gas resources of Tibet.

Mr Erkin Alptekin, General Secretary, UNPO, said. "This project is part of China's attempts to consolidate political control of my country, which it has occupied for over half a century. My people want development, but not like this." Ms Tsering Jampa, Director of International Campaign for Tibet Europe added. "As the Tibetan people are finding with PetroChina's operations in Tibet's Tsaidam Basin, these major projects do not bring benefits to the population from whom the resources are stolen, but serve as a mechanism to encourage more Chinese people into the area."
Like Tibet, East Turkestan has been occupied by China for more than half a century. During that time the human rights abuses and cultural persecution of Tibetan and Uighur peoples have been appalling. Political dissent is ruthlessly suppressed and torture is commonplace.

PetroChina and the Chinese state are exploiting the natural resources of occupied territories that rightfully belong to people under subjugation. These oil and gas projects are part of China's strategy to consolidate political control of the so-called 'Western Regions'. Tibetans and Uighurs will derive little or no benefit from the exploitation of their resources, which will facilitate population transfer of Chinese into these areas and pose a significant threat to their culture and environment. In other parts of the world, oil, gas and mineral extraction projects have often exacerbated political tensions and led to bloody conflicts. Tragic events in the Niger Delta, in Indonesia and in Colombia amply illustrate this.

The people of Tibet and East Turkestan want development and an end to decades of poverty and deprivation that the Chinese occupation has brought. But the oil and gas projects are not designed for their benefit. They are designed for the consolidation of Chinese control over the region, and for the benefit of Chinese in the east.

Shell has signed a joint agreement with United Nations Development Programme to carry out social impact assessments for the project, but there are fundamental difficulties in conducting meaningful impact assessments in a country where freedom of speech is limited and opposition to government priorities may be construed as political dissent.

Shell's Business Principles maintain that the company "will conduct business as responsible corporate members of society, to express support for fundamental human rights in line with the legitimate role of business and to give proper regard to health, safety and the environment consistent with their commitment to contribute to sustainable development." However Shell may be asked by PetroChina to sign the final agreement for the West-East pipeline before it is in a position to know whether it will be possible to carry the project out in a way that does not undermine these principles. The only way for Shell to preserve its reputation is to abandon the project.