Transport for London targeted in new resources campaign

11th August 2016

London's transport authority is rolling out buses from BYD, a company that extracts lithium from occupied Tibet

Free Tibet today launched the next stage of its Grand Theft Tibet campaign, asking supporters to urge Transport for London, London's transport authority, to halt further orders of buses from the Chinese company BYD, which operates in occupied Tibet.

BYD, based in Shenzhen, southeast China, is one of the largest producers of electric vehicles in the world and manufactures more of the lithium ion batteries needed to run these vehicles than any other company. It has supplied buses to cities in over 40 countries around the world.

The Chinese government has heavily promoted BYD abroad, with Chinese President Xi Jinping accompanying BYD’s director on state visits to Brazil and the UK. During his state visit to London last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping posed next to a BYD prototype electric double decker bus alongside the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

After successful trials of BYD buses in London last year, one of Transport for London’s bus providers, Go Ahead, arranged for 51 BYD buses to be added to its fleet.  These single decker buses will run on two of Transport for London’s bus routes through central London.

Extracting Tibet’s “new oil”

Lithium has been dubbed the “new oil” due to its potential for use in laptops, cameras, phones and electric vehicles, many of which run on renewable lithium ion-batteries made from lithium carbonate. Tibet contains some of the largest reserves of lithium in the world, and in Chabyer Tsaka, known as Lake Zabuye in Chinese, Tibet possesses the only natural lithium carbonate salt lakes in the world.

In 2010, BYD was granted a 20-year lease over Chabyer Tsaka, giving it exclusive rights to extract lithium from the lake. The acquisition of this lake granted BYD its own ready supply of lithium carbonate. Like many other mining projects across Tibet, it took place without consultation with the Tibetan people, who under Chinese rule have seen their resources being excavated and sold against their wishes.

In several cases mining projects in Tibet, including lithium extraction, have caused environmental damage to surrounding rivers and land. The Chinese occupation prevents Tibetans from having a say in how their resources and environment are used. Protests against extraction projects are met with large deployments of police and security forces, who have broken up demonstrations with force, arrests and even live ammunition.

Tibetans nevertheless continue to resist, and their defiance has even scored them some victories. In May this year the population of Lhagang Township in Kardze’s Dartsedo County defied an intimating police presence to protest against chemicals from a nearby lithium plant leaking into the water, contaminating the drinking water supply and killing fish. Their protest resulted in a temporary halt to extraction in Dartsedo County.

Take action

Tibetans continue to live under Chinese military occupation and are excluded from decisions about how their environment and resources are used, and from any of the benefits from their extraction and sale. Tell Transport for London that they should not be buying buses from BYD so long as it continues to operate in occupied Tibet.