July 19, 2001
Hong Kong journal ZhengMing used Probe International news coverage in its June issue to openly question charges against three farmers arrested in Beijing earlier this year after trying to expose corruption over the Three Gorges dam to Chinese authorities.
Following their arrests in March, farmers He Kechang, Ran Chongxin, and Jian Qingshan were escorted back to their home county of Yunyang to await trial on charges of maintaining illicit relations with a foreign country and leaking state secrets.
Drawing on uncensored information published by Toronto-based environmental and human rights organization Probe International in its electronic Three Gorges Probe news service, ZhengMing contends the farmers are being tried because they told Hong Kong reporters how much resettlement funding they had received from the Three Gorges relocation program and had tried to expose resettlement problems to China’s central government.
According to ZhengMing, unlike Dr. Li Shaomin – the Chinese university professor arrested in February and later convicted on the mainland of spying for Taiwan – it is unlikely that three farmers based in the Three Gorges area would have access to or any knowledge of China’s “national secrets.” The journal points out that compensation standards for Three Gorges resettlement had been officially published by the Changjiang Water Resources Commission in 1997. The state had also clearly identified what it considered national secrets in its “PRC’s Maintaining National Secrecy Act,” published in 1988, which bears little reference to the information the farmers are accused of divulging.
But there are national secrets associated with the Three Gorges project said the journal, referring to a series of reports published by Probe International which disclosed that the dam’s flood control capacity is much smaller than the project authority claims it is. The real flood control capacity was revealed by Zhang Guangdou, a preeminent professor at China’s Qinghua University and head of the Three Gorges Project’s Quality Inspection Group, during a meeting with the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee early last year. The exchange of correspondence that followed was later obtained and published by Probe International.
In a private conversation with Guo Shuyan, head of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, Professor Zhang said, “Perhaps you know that the flood control capacity of the Three Gorges Project is smaller than declared by us. The research was done by Qinghua University. After learning this, vice-chairman Qian Zhengying questioned the Changjiang Water Resources Commission. The Changjiang Water Resources Commission has also admitted this is true.” These admissions support claims by a number of academics and experts who maintain that the flood control capacity of the dam was deliberately exaggerated. Notes ZhengMing, small wonder that Professor Zhang should warn the project authority to “Keep in mind, never, ever let the public know the truth.”
Other dam-related “national secrets” revealed the journal, involve Chongqing. The largest city in southwest China located on the upper reaches of the Yangtze will be significantly affected by the project ZhengMing said, leaving parts of urban Chongqing severely flooded as a result.
Construction of the dam has also been plagued by problems, including on-the-job fatalities and the malfunction of the dam’s temporary ship lock. Reports ZhengMing, according to Professor Zhang, “As far as the quality of the project is concerned, our inspection report is too polite, not wanting to criticize for fear of being attacked by others. I would like to make it clear that the quality of the project is just average. The Three Gorges project is not a construction project with building materials like bean dregs, but it is far from excellent. The key to the problem is that we are constantly trying to quicken the pace of the project and go too fast.”
Chinese media estimate that between 1999 and 2000, about 40 Three Gorges dam workers have died in various construction-related accidents. Reports also indicate that the temporary ship lock was seriously damaged as a result of human error, after four passenger vessels and a cargo ship became trapped inside the ship lock just two months after it opened for operation in July 1998. Passengers were left stranded for more than seven hours awaiting rescue but the incident was hushed up said ZhengMing – another “national secret.”