Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/An Assessment of Stakeholders’ Involvement and their Influences on Sustainability in Kanas National Nature Reserve, Xinjiang, China

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In this wiki page, the case study is about Kanas National Nature Reserve. It is located in Xinjiang province in China. The paper will introduce the background first, which covers its comprehensive background about location, history and regional context. Then the tenure arrangement and governance of the area will be discussed. Next, it will identify several affected and interested stakeholders, and analyze their relative power as well. Based on their participation and influences, the sustainability of the reserve will be assessed from environmental, economic and social dimensions, followed by some recommendations for the current situations.


Location map of Kanas National Nature Reserve

Kanas National Nature Reserve is located in the northwest of China. In 1986, Kanas was approved to be a national comprehensive natural landscape reserve, which is the only National Nature Reserve bordered by four countries: Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and China [1]. Then, Kanas initiated tourism in 1993 and started development in 1997 [2]. Since 1997, Kanas has received over 976,000 visitors [2]. The average growth rate per year achieved 63 percent by 2006 and keeps growing afterward [2]. Tourism revenues were around RMB 1330 million from 1997 to 2006 [2].

In Mongolian, ‘‘Kanas’’ means ‘‘fair, rich and mysterious land’’ [2]. With a total area of 10,030 square kilometers, Kanas National Nature Reserve hosts 55 officially sanctioned scenic spots [3]. The reserve primarily protects the natural landscapes, comprising of the cold temperate zone mixed coniferous and broad-leaved forests eco-system, and the alpine lake Kanas [4]. It has received diverse awards since 2000, including the National 5A Scenic Area, National Geological Park, National Nature Reserve, National Forestry Park, and some parts of the reserve are ready to be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site [3].

Tourism development of Kanas

In addition, Kanas is the birthplace of the largest tributary of Erqis River, the only Arctic water system in China [5], and the only compact community in which Tuva people lived in China [4]. There are three main Tuva settlements in the reserve, which are Kanas, Hemu, and Baihaba villages [3]. In 2010, there were a total of 729 households with a population of 2760, of which 97% were Tuva people [3]. Besides those three villages which serve as cultural attractions, the reserve also consists of seven natural attractions: Kanas State-level Nature Reserve, Kanas National Geopark, Baihaba National Forest Park, Jiadengyu National Forest Park, Buerjin Valley, Hemu Valley and Hemu Grassland [6]. Moreover, the protection area of Kanas is divided into three functional areas: core area, buffer area and scientific experiment area [1].

Tenure Arrangements

In Western countries, most lands are held as private properties of residents or corporations [2]. Locals have the right to dispose of their own property and to decide whether to participate in tourism or not [2]. However, almost all land belongs to the state in China [2]. Land ownership is completely under the control of the local government and the local villagers only have the right to use the land [2]. There are four main forms of land tenure in nature reserves in China: first, all land in nature reserves is owned by the state; second, all land in nature reserves is owned by the collective; third, the land in nature reserves is owned by the state and the collective; fourth, the ownership of land resources in nature reserves is unclear [7]. With the inclusion of more collective land in the reserve, the conflict caused by land tenure and resources has intensified [7]. Moreover, the integration of collective land also brings serious impacts on local villagers, resulting in the overall loss or partial restriction of locals’ rights and opportunities for using land and resources [7].

The Chinese state is a combination of institutions with complex dynamics that sometimes conflict with each other. The power that local governments acquired has fragmented the power of the central state over the issues of land use and allocation [8]. Most power over land rests in the hands of local governments, which not only represents the interests of the state but also their own economic interests [9]. They often sacrifice households' tenure security for equity and/or efficiency [10], or for securing urban development. Establishing a contract relationship between households and the collective is therefore complex [8] and, not surprisingly, a large number of small farmers in possession of an official land document perceive their land tenure as insecure [11].

Specifically, Xinjiang is an ethnically heterogeneous province that has more complicated tenure systems than any other region in China [11]. Because many Uyghurs consider religious organizations to have more authority than the state, land registration could be very intricate [12]. This region is characterized by two different tenure regimes that apply to contract land and wasteland. In rural Xinjiang, it is often problematic to maintain access to land as local governments retain control over land due to concerns about local and regional food security and social stability [11].

In general, a land document is a useful instrument that the government can use for strengthening the positive effect of trust in promoting tenure security [11]. Uyghurs with larger landholdings attached more significance to holding a wasteland document than Han Chinese with less land [11]. These observations verify that land documents do have a conditional effect [11]. In order to maximize the potential of the current land tenure system, local government can also take more action on acting as the facilitator of bottom-up approaches to decision-making [2].


After Kanas was approved as a national nature reserve in 1986, Kanas Environment and Tourism Management Bureau was the management agency responsible for the use and preservation of the resources [3]. The current Kanas Scenic Area was officially set up in July 2006 and managed by the Kanas Scenic Area Administrative Committee (KSAAC), which also has the administrative power over Hemu Kanas Mongolian village in Burqin County and some other ethnic settlements within the boundary [3]. Specifically speaking, the Kanas Scenic Area has seven administrative villages under the direction of two township governments [6]. Additionally, the implementation of community participation requires the participation of local government, including guidance in ideas generation, the identification of objectives and approaches in the development of tourism, and the establishment of the monitoring of environmental data including that of flora and fauna plus a marketing system that establishes the needs of tourists [2].

Stakeholders' Involvement and Their Relative Power

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders are defined as “any person, groups of persons or entity whose long-term welfare is likely to be dependent or subject to the effects of the activities or has an emotional/lived connection in a locally important or customarily-claimed forest area” [13]. According to this definition, local villagers can be generally identified as the affected stakeholders in the Kanas National Nature Reserve. Their existential values depend on the forests and they rely on this land for livelihood for a long time. The importance of community participation in natural resource management and the development of tourism has also been discussed for a long time in Western academics. All three villages (Kanas, Hemu, Baihaba) participate in small-scale and self-employed commercial tourism activities, rather than engaging in the tourism decision-making and management processes [2]. Therefore, the general power of the local villagers is somewhat low. The total population of 4330 in the Kanas National Nature Reserve consists of Tuva, Kazakh, Hui, Russian and Han [6]. Tuva and Kazakh are the main minority groups inhabiting this region [6]. Local Tuva and Kazakh people are heavily engaged in providing such services to tourists. This is now an important source of income for them and they generally hold positive attitudes toward tourism [3]. Next, I would like to analyze the care and power of these two ethnic peoples in detail.

  • Kazakh people

According to statistics, 57.1 percent of Kazakhs were involved in tourism compared to 28.6 percent of Tuvans [2]. They are also the so-called “culture brokers” in the local communities. The term of the “culture broker” is defined by Smith and his ethnographic research while living 12 months inside the Tuva and Kazakh residents in Kanas [6]. Some Kazakhs operate as a “culture broker” by impersonating Tuva in Home Visits [6]. Among the 10 Home Visit businesses in Kanas Village in 2009, only 2 were operated by Tuva residents of Kanas Village, the other eight were all operated by outsiders, and most of the employed performers are Kazakhs from neighboring townships [6]. Therefore, Kazakh people do not have much geographical or subsistence ties in this area. Also, there is not much evidence showing that they value the local forests and the reserve a lot. To some extent, the “culture broker” issue shows their higher power in this community.

  • Tuva people
Tuva village

Tuva people are not considered as Indigenous people in China, but they are a very special and mysterious minority in China. Strictly speaking, the origin and ethnic orientation of Tuva people have not been determined. Maybe they are descendants of some old, weak and disabled soldiers' leftover from Genghis Khan's western expedition, or they might come from Siberia 500 years ago and belongs to the same ethnic group as the present Russian Republic, or they could also be an Indian ancestor [5].

Unlike the Kazakh people (the “pretend Tuvas”), most Tuva people have fewer Mandarin language skills, less education and lack of understanding of commercial business management. Although they have little opportunity for social interaction with outsiders [6], they have great emotional and lived connections with the local areas. Tuva peoples speak the Tuva language among themselves, speak the Kazakh language when talking to Kazakhs and Hui people, and speak Mongolian with Mongolian people [6]. Tuva peoples have their own beliefs, customs, religious codes, pristine production methods and nomadic lifestyle, which attract many visitors [6]. It is obvious that they significantly value their homeland and have many ancestral, traditional and spiritual ties to this region. Besides, Tuva people have little voice in decision-making in the community. The Kanas Scenic Area Administrative Committee is responsible for the administration of the Kanas Scenic Area, but the leaders are Han or Kazakh, not Tuvas [6]. Through comparing and analyzing, Tuva people have a relatively higher level of both care and dependence than Kazakh people.

Interested Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders are defined as “any person, groups of persons, or entity that is linked in a transaction or an activity relating to a forest area, but who does/does not have a long-term dependency on that forest area [13]. Based on this definition, I can recognize four groups of interested stakeholders involved in the Kanas National Nature Reserve: local government, tourists, investors, and non-government organizations (NGOs). I would like to analyze their objectives and their relative power in the following section.

  • Local government

The local government of the Kanas National Nature Reserve not only owns the land tenure but is also in charge of several administrative departments of the reserve. Instead of depending on this forest area, they are responsible for the management of this region. Their objective is to establish legislative systems, develop the local economy, improve people’s livelihood, etc. For example, transportation has been improved a lot by the government through the provision of more transportation modes in the reserve area [3]. In short, the government has a neutral interest and a relatively high level of care and great power towards the reserve.

  • Tourists

A study on the ecological awareness of tourists in the Kanas National Nature Reserve shows that their level of eco-tourism experience awareness is low, while their awareness of environmental responsibility is strong [14]. Therefore, tourists might not be that interested in this specific reserve, but their level of care for the environment and development of this area could be relatively high. Additionally, “tourists are key stakeholders in tourism development, and their input as consumers of the tourism products is invaluable” [15]. Tourism revenues were around RMB 1330 million from 1997 to 2006 [2]. They significantly boost the local economy, so their economic power and influence on this reserve are high.

  • Investors

Investors bring a lot of impacts on local development. Historically, significant improvements in touristic facilities and services occurred between 2006 and 2012 [3]. All the quantity, quality, and variety of accommodation were improved considerably afterward because outside investments were attracted to construct 4 four-star hotels and other accommodation facilities [3]. What is more, the tourist service area outside the core tourist area at Jiadengyu has a broader range of accommodation and service facilities, where the level of outside investments and involvement can be much higher [3]. Although tourism investors are not dependent on this specific area, they depend on the industry to some extent. However, the high percentage of local employees may indicate that outside investors’ penetration in the local tourism business is still not high [3]. Hence, the investors only have medium to low power and interest in this case.

  • NGOs

I would like to demonstrate the objective and power of NGOs on the basis of a Russia-China pipeline issue. In 2006, Russia's state-owned Gazprom, the world's largest producer of natural gas, and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed an agreement to construct a 2,600 km natural gas pipeline running from northwest Siberia southward through Altai, over the Kanas into China [16]. Thus, China's Kanas Nature Reserve and Siberia's Ukok Plateau share a 54km border and an uncertain future [16]. Both domestic and Big International Non-Government Organizations (BINGOs), like the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), tried to stop this project and protect the environment [16]. As a result, the project was "postponed for an indefinite period of time" in 2015 [17]. Therefore, we can see the relatively high power of NGOs in participation. Although they do not have a long-term dependency on the Kanas National Nature Reserve, NGOs always care about forest conservation and the sustainable development of this area the most.

Analysis of the forest dependence of stakeholders in Kanas
Power Analysis of Stakeholders in Kanas
High power, low interest High power, high interest
Local government NGOs
Low power, low interest Low power, high interest
Investors Tuva people

After analyzing the relative level of care and power of each stakeholder, I conclude in these two graphs above. By assessing their involvement in the local communities, next I would like to discuss their influences on sustainability in the Kanas National Nature Reserve.

Discussion of Sustainability

The tourism resource is one of the most important parts of the community forestry project at the Kanas National Nature Reserve. The eco-tourism development in the nature reserve is supposed to be guided under the concepts of sustainable development and environmental ecology [4]. The core objective of eco-tourism is to deal with the trade-offs between the protection of natural resources and local economic development [4]. The special history and culture of the Kanas region, as well as the complex participation situation of multi-stakeholders, make it very difficult to promise a sustainably-developing future of the reserve. During the past few years’ developments, we can identify several successes and failures of this project. By assessing the influences of the stakeholders’ activities, the sustainability of this region can be discussed from environmental, economic and social dimensions.

Kanas Lake

Environmental Dimensions

Kanas enjoys a great geographical position, extraordinary natural condition and biological combination. It also has great value for scientific research and forest protection [4]. However, there are many destructive constructions damaging the environment in the reserve these days [1]. Currently, the introduction of motorboats on Kanas Lake, the construction of buildings in the reserve have certain impacts on the landscape vision of Kanas’s old village and its surrounding areas. There is also air pollution from households and wastewater from hotels [4]. While the construction of tourist routes basically complies with the principles of ecology, it has little impact on the landscape vision [1]. Moreover, the reserve lacks the protection of animals: some local residents even poach wildlife animals in the region [1]. Therefore, environmental sustainability in the reserve is relatively weak. Further management improvements need to be implemented to reduce human impact and enhance the ecosystem.

Economic Dimensions

The Kanas National Nature Reserve is located in a remote location, and the village economy is backward, which leads to relatively less investment in tourism development [5]. In addition, the problems caused by the limitation and loss of collective forest resources, in turn, increase the difficulty and cost of nature reserve management [7]. With the increasing number of visitors to this area, the local economy has developed very fast. There are even more potential and actual economic opportunities if the reserve could be designated to be a World Heritage Site (WHS) in the future, though the acquisition of WHS does not affirmatively lead to more tourism according to visitors’ perceptions [15].

Social Dimensions

The interaction between tourists and community members in ethnic tourism has many social benefits. Tourists do not perceive the ethnic encounter as an initial motivation to visit Kanas, but the ethnic culture notably contributes to the formation of a satisfactory on-site experience [3]. Tourists and community members have diverse needs for these interactions and are affected by these interactions to different extents [3]. By managing tourist–community interactions at different stages of tourism development, it is possible to enrich tourists’ experiences, maximize community benefits, and enhance ethnic culture and identity [3]. Based on the SWOT analysis on tourist development of Tuva folk sports, advantages and opportunities outweigh disadvantages and threats. The more distinctive Tuva sports’ characteristics are, the more attractive it is to tourists, the greater the value of tourism development [5]. On the other hand, the traditional national sports culture is being commercialized and has lost its unique and profound cultural connotation because of the sole pursuit of economic benefits. Although there is even the issue of “culture brokers” happening in Kanas, the reserve significantly builds its reputation and promotes its minority cultures.


After assessing the influences of stakeholders’ engagement on sustainability from three dimensions, I would like to analyze some of the possible reasons and give some suggestions to the current problems.

The problems are caused by different stakeholders and it is urgent to be solved immediately. Firstly, the government lacked control in making legislation, planning constructions, administrating the investors. As a result, the scenic area suffers from overburden, especially in the environmental aspect. Secondly, investors started to do business in their own way without being sufficiently managed by administrations. Lastly, even unauthorized constructions were recognized, the illegal operations and destructive development were not removed as soon as possible.

Generally speaking, strategic resolutions for sustainable development of eco-tourism can be applied to Kanas effectively. This includes establishing a legislation system for eco-tourism programming, an eco-tourism environment protection planning system, an eco-tourism environment protection planning system, an auditing system, and a law enforcing system [4]. Besides, I would like to recommend some points in detail. For example, the area assigned for lake tours can be limited to reduce the environmental disturbance of the motorboat. The reserve can also develop the function of ecological education to raise the awareness of conservation for both locals and visitors. Considering the incident of “pretended Tuvas” in the community, the government should protect and utilize the Tuva people’s customs in a more meaningful way. Last but not least, there is no doubt that administrations should also strengthen pollution control and law enforcement.

As for the opportunity and willingness to designating Kanas National Nature Reserve to be on the World Heritage List, there are both advantages and disadvantages. This definitely could attract the attention of media, the general public, potential donors and investors, which can lead to more financial resources and the establishment of legal systems [15]. It is also a commendable opportunity for local governments to address the needs of both social development and environmental protection in the region [15]. However, despite the possible economic growth in local communities, benefits are usually unevenly distributed and even accruing to outsiders [15].

In general, the successes outweigh the failures in the Kanas National Nature Reserve. It is useful to identify each stakeholder and assess their power and influences. Especially for local residents, they are the main body of cultural acculturation. They should have the right to choose and arrange their own production and lifestyle, rather than being "chosen" and "arranged" by experts or tourists [18]. By trying to trade-off and achieve mutual benefits for all stakeholders, there is a promising future for long-term sustainability in the reserve. Hopefully, later development in Kanas National Nature Reserve can drive more economic development, enhance the protection of nature and expand the social influence for the region. 


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Liu, X., Yang, Z., & Chen, X. (2012). The impact of tourism on landscape vision in nature heritage area: Case of Kanas Nature Reserve. Ecological Economy, 80–84.
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  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 Su, M. M., Long, Y., Wall, G., & Jin, M. (2016). Tourist–community interactions in ethnic tourism: Tuva villages, Kanas scenic area, China. Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 14(1), 1–26.
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  13. 13.0 13.1 Lecture: "Affected and Interested Stakeholders" on September 16, 2019 from Dr. Janette Bulkan.
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