Three Gorges Probe

Chapter 17

(May 31, 1994)


An Interview with Wang Xingrang1

by Chen Ying2

Chen Ying: Discussions have been going on for decades as to the feasibility of carrying out the Three Gorges project. But little has been reported to the public. The assessment meetings are given only simple and biased news coverage. The departments concerned, and some leaders, are said to be unwilling to have the issue debated openly. Do you think the project should be discussed by people throughout the country?

Wang Xingrang: My position is very clear. It is not only important but also essential to discuss openly whether this project should be launched immediately, even if a decision has been reached by the Central Committee. The reasons are the following:

1. Since articles in favor of the Three Gorges project have appeared in the Party’s official newspapers, the atmosphere is one of anticipating an early start of the project.

2. Discussions on the project have lasted for years, have gone beyond the issue of engineering technology, and have become a test of the Chinese Communist Party’s decision-making procedures. Will it listen to and consider different opinions and suggestions concerning the project so as to reach a decision in a scientific and democratic manner? The question of whether the project should be started can only be broached once the issue of proper decision-making procedures has been settled.

3. The project is closely related to many other important issues facing the Chinese Communist Party, all of which raise the question of whether or not the Central Committee of the Party is truly determined to improve the economy into order, and deepen its reforms. People will have reasons to doubt the probability of economic reform if the Party agrees to carry out a project that requires so many human and financial resources.

4. Many specialists have studied the project. Public and open discussion of the project would contribute to further studies.

Chen Ying: Some say that it is pointless to debate the project openly, since the state now lacks the financial ability to carry it out in the near future.

Wang Xingrang: Of course, it is impossible to launch the project when there is no money. But does that mean the project should be started as soon as there is money? The essential point in the discussion is whether it is wise and appropriate to fund this project at all.

Chen Ying: What do you think of the leading group’s assessment?

Wang Xingrang: The reassessment of the project is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, a hasty launching of the project would result in unpredictable disasters. But the leading group’s assessment, presided over by the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power, did not deal with the feasibility of the project. Rather, it limited its assessment to the question of how to start the project as soon as possible and assumed that there was no alternative to it. The assessment focused on technical subjects such as the location of the future reservoir and the height of the dam. In a nutshell, it only discussed the project as it stands. I believe it was a one-sided and arbitrary discussion, rather than a scientific assessment based on facts and realities. The assessment cannot provide a comprehensive and reliable point of reference for decisions to be taken by the State Council.

Chen Ying: The Three Gorges project will involve the relocation of 1.1 to 1.3 million people, the most ever for the construction of a hydro-electric dam. This is not only an issue of technology and financial resources but also a social issue. With reference to the assessment of the resettlement issue, those who support the project believe the relocation of 1.1 million people would require Y11 billion, and would improve their living standard. The earlier the resettlement, the lower the cost. How do you view this issue?

Wang Xingrang: The problem of population relocation is closely connected with the issue of submerging vast amounts of land and both may be viewed together from certain perspectives.

1. The project would submerge 430,000 mu of land and a dozen towns, whose industrial and agricultural productivity would be destroyed. Even if we don’t count the loss in productivity over generations, the physical damage alone will be tremendous. The budget for compensating the relocated population is estimated to be at least Y11 billion. If there were no Three Gorges dam, there would be, at most, just one or two floods in 100 years, each of which would cause losses of only several billion yuan. Furthermore, if we take only a very small amount from the project budget to develop flood-control facilities in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, we can easily prevent floods in the future.

2. By constructing a number of medium- and small-scale reservoirs along the tributaries at the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, using monies allocated for population relocation, a capacity for storage and power generation beyond that of the Three Gorges project can be created. These projects would involve a shorter construction period and require less land and productivity loss in the areas concerned.

This type of research is absent in the assessment report. This indicates a problem in the assessor’s way of thinking and in the principles of decision making.
3. As for the development in the Three Gorges area, some have said that if there is no project, there will be no hope for the economic development of the area. In fact, while waiting for the construction of the Three Gorges reservoir to begin, officials have done little to develop the local economy in order to reduce the compensation budget. Local economic development has been delayed for 30 years and will lag further as time goes by. Irrevocable losses have been suffered even before the project starts. As some have commented: “The Three Gorges project can be a historical monument,” but it can just as well become a disaster.

Chen Ying: Population relocation for reservoir construction has in the past proved to be a complicated job with serious economic consequences. Do you think the Three Gorges project might have such consequences?

Wang Xingrang: All the reservoir constructions in China have caused serious economic effects. “Those who have suffered are not the beneficiaries while those who have benefited are not the sufferers.” In practice, this has meant sacrificing agricultural interests in order to benefit industry.3 This principle applies equally to the Three Gorges project, which would result in an even more unprecedented disaster.

Sources and Further Commentary

1Wang Xingrang, a member of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, was once the vice-minister of commerce. This interview was included in the original Chinese edition of Yangtze! Yangtze!

2Chen Ying is the editor of Workers’ Daily.

3 Reflecting the heavy industrial and urban biases of China’s developmental model, loss of cultivated areas to industrial and other uses averaged about 520,000 hectares per year between 1957 and 1988. See Smil, China’s Environmental Crisis, p. 56.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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