WASHINGTON - The United States will vote against a World Bank loan to resettle thousands of Chinese farmers on Tibetan land, a move that could derail yet again a project that has become a lightning rod for criticism of the lender, a Tibetan advocacy group said yesterday.
The bank's executive board is scheduled to vote today on whether to lend the $40 million to China to finance the resettlement. The United States voted against the loan when it was proposed last year, triggering an internal investigation by the bank, so its decision this time around is considered crucial.
"They are definitely voting against it," John Ackerly, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, said of the United States, which has approximately 15 percent of the board's weighted vote.
The United States doesn't "want to give China a blank check on this project yet," said Ackerly, who said he has discussed the matter with U.S. officials and whose group filed the initial complaint against the project.
The Treasury Department, which determines how the United States votes on World Bank loans, declined to comment. It's not yet clear how the bank's other board members intend to vote.
Nongovernmental organizations have rallied to oppose the loan, saying it reflects the bank's tendency to ignore the impact of its projects. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, voiced opposition to the loan at a White House meeting last month with President Bill Clinton and at a Washington rally last weekend.
Resettlement has been a sore point among Tibetans and their supporters for decades. Since China fully occupied Tibet in 1959, so many Chinese people have resettled in the vast territory that by some accounts the Chinese now outnumber the Tibetans there, jeopardizing the region's culture.
The resettlement loan is part of a $160 million project to improve farm production and irrigation, and build roads and dams in Qinghai Province in northwest China.