BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday there have not been and will not be any forced relocations from a high-altitude plateau in a heavily Tibetan area granted world heritage status by the United Nations, after concern by Tibetan groups.
The groups have argued the UNESCO designation would allow Chinese authorities to remove residents from the area, known as Hoh Xil, in Qinghai province, and threaten its environment and nomadic culture.
The ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters, said the awarding of world heritage status by the U.N. cultural organisation last week represented the international community's "full approval" of the government's success at protecting Hoh Xil's environment.
The government's application documents for the status for the site showed its resolve to fully respect the wishes, traditional culture, religious beliefs and lifestyles of the nomadic people who live there, the ministry said.
"The Chinese government has not, is not and will not in the future do any forced evictions in the Hoh Xil nominated area," it said.
Qinghai government regulations and plans also include no requirements for forced relations, the ministry said.
The area has an elevation of more than 4,500 metres (14,764 feet) and is home to several endemic animal species as well as the entire migratory route of the endangered Tibetan antelope.
Tibetan rights groups argue the UNESCO designation could accelerate Chinese efforts to move nomads into settled villages.
China routinely rejects criticism from rights groups and exiles who accuse it of trampling on the religious and cultural rights of the Tibetan people, saying its rule has brought prosperity to a once-backward region.
Aside from what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region, there are also large Tibetan communities in neighbouring provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan.
There have been periodic bouts of anti-Chinese unrest in Tibetan areas, notably in 2008 when protests led by Buddhist monks gave way to violence, with rioters torching shops and turning on residents, especially majority Han Chinese, who many Tibetans see as intruders threatening their culture.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel