The plans, which have been submitted to UNESCO, would mean great swathes of the Tibetan plateau, known as “the roof of the world”, would be included in the site, dwarfing others around the globe.
The proposed national park is being dubbed the Third Pole National Park because the plateau and mountains, including part of the Himalayas, resemble the polar regions.
According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing says the main purpose of the national park is conservation, which would mean limiting a wide range of economic activities and might force some residents to move.
Yet critics say the plan is part of the long-running campaign by Chinese authorities to control Tibet, which has a tumultuous history around its autonomy.
Protests against Chinese rule in Tibet
According to the Hong Kong newspaper, if approved, the park would be more than 2.5 million square km, overshadowing the world’s current largest in Greenland at 972,000 square km.
However, unlike the Northeast Greenland National Park, which is unpopulated, the proposed park would affect a native population of around 7.8m.
Chinese authorities claim some of this human impact threatens the region’s fragile environment and overgrazing is degrading precious grasslands.
According to the organisation Free Tibet, this would mean the end of Tibetan nomadic life in the region, with the ancient and environmentally-sustainable cultures being lost as a result.
It said: “Numerous scientific reports have corroborated the claim that nomads have a beneficial impact on local ecosystems while campaign groups are concerned that further enforced settlement of nomadic communities will devastate the language, culture and lifestyle of millennia-old peoples.”
Scotland currently has a targeted cross-party Tibet group whose aim is to facilitate the building of relations between the Scottish Parliament, Tibet and its people and those interested in the region.
Its chair, the SNP’s Linda Fabiani, said members of the group had long been concerned about the ongoing clearances of traditional settlements in Tibet.
She said: “The plans for this national park are massive and there is much suspicion that the motivation is less about protection of the land than political expediency related to mineral extraction and ongoing plans.
“The environmental degradation of the Tibetan plateau, displacement of people and disruption of traditional ways of life is ongoing in Tibet, with any protest being silenced or crushed. Extremely sad.”
Tibet has been in and out of the sphere of Chinese influence for centuries, spending some periods functioning as an independent country and others being ruled by Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.
In 1950 China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region, with some areas becoming known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other parts incorporated into Chinese provinces.
The Dalai Lama, the area’s exiled spiritual leader, fled to India in 1959.
China, which has a long-standing prohibition of separatism, considers the 81-year-old monk a separatist seeking Tibet’s independence. However, the Buddhist leader says he merely advocates substantial autonomy and protection of the region’s native culture.
Currently he heads the Central Tibetan Administration, commonly known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, alongside prime minister Lobsang Sangay, in India.
China has said Tibet has developed considerably under its rule, but rights groups say the country has violated human rights and accuse it of political and religious repression.
The International Campaign for Tibet, a group fronted by high-profile supporter Richard Gere, said many of the existing mines and dams in resource-rich Tibet will be “drawn around” by zoning authorities, leaving a “patchwork” national park that conveniently bypasses some of the principal water controls and mineral extraction drives.
Others believe the plan may also be part of a process of further boosting tourism numbers to the unspoilt lands of Tibet – in effect creating a giant Tibetan Disneyland.
Speaking in the South China Morning Post, Professor Liu Jingshi, researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, said the Third Pole National Park, if established, would be difficult to manage due to its unprecedented size.
He said it took the United States government decades to figure out how to manage Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, established in 1872. The Third Pole would be more than 250 times larger and with a different kind of natural landscape.
According to reports, UNESCO authorities are set to decide on the fate of the controversial park project on July 2.
The Chinese consulate was approached for a comment.