Three Gorges Probe

Chapter 9

(May 31, 1994)


A Statement for the Third Session of the Seventh Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference 1

by Li Boning2

I am in full support of the Communique of the Third Plenum of the Thirteenth Party Congress, and the report by Comrade Zhao Ziyang, which emphasized controlling the economic environment, diminishing consumer demand and capital investments, and favoring major industries. At the same time, investments for non-productive construction projects and conspicuous consumption should be eliminated, a series of measures should be adopted to maintain necessary supplies, the momentum of economic development and the living standard of the people. In addition to the two measures put forth by Zhao to cope with the problems of food and grain supplies, I would like to stress in particular the issues of agriculture and irrigation. Here, the investment should not only be maintained but increased each year. The current situation, where since 1980 there has been a decline in agriculture and irrigation as well as in the enthusiasm of farmers for raising grain, should be altered.3 The stability of agricultural prices and the people’s living standard depends on increasing the productivity of the land and the enthusiasm of the farmers. Without this, it will be very hard to achieve an output of 500 billion kilograms of grain by the year 2000.

Various discussions and speeches made in small groups and during the conference, as well as by members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) assessing the Three Gorges project, and in numerous articles and publications, were strongly opposed to construction of this grand project because of the need to reduce capital investment. It was felt that during the initial stages of our socialist society,4 at least before the year 2000, this project should not be considered. In my opinion, this argument reveals a lack of knowledge about the real situation, and does not conform to the facts. Having been engaged in the field of hydro-electric resources for 38 years, ever since the establishment of the Ministry of Water Resources in 1950, I feel obliged to present a realistic picture of the current situation. While I am trying to contribute what I know, I would also like to hear your opinions and comments, and welcome criticism for any incorrect remarks.

Zhao’s report called for a drastic reduction in “non-productive and redundant construction,” “office-buildings and luxury establishments,” along with “conspicuous consumption” in favor of projects encouraging economic development and major industries. I believe the Three Gorges project is of strategic significance for the four modernizations (agriculture, industry, sciences and technology, and national defense). The project should not be reduced or eliminated, because it will add great momentum to economic development.

The Three Gorges project is a great project, capable of producing enormous economic results of a comprehensive nature, promoting flood control, the generation of hydro-electricity, and navigation, thereby enhancing the economic development of the reservoir area and the economic prosperity of the local people. Experts on water resources from the Nationalist government and from the United States studied the Three Gorges project for many years before Liberation in 1949. In 1954, after the disastrous flooding of the Huaihe River in Anhui province, scientific research was carried out in the Yangtze River basin while the blueprint for the river’s economic development was being formulated. In 1958, two resolutions on these matters were adopted at the meeting of the Party Central Committee held in Chengdu, Sichuan province. In the 30 years since that meeting, scientists and engineers have continued to study the project. Given that study has gone on for so long, how can the approach of the water resources and electric power departments and the scientists be considered rash? Although a final feasibility report has yet to be completed, an initial conclusion has been made based on the assessment report done by the 14 experts’ groups. Basically, no technical problem is insoluble and therefore the concerns shown by many comrades can also be met.

There is no equally effective alternative to the Three Gorges project for flood control, navigation, and economic development in the reservoir area. As for the electrical supply for central and eastern China, including the eastern part of Sichuan, the construction of the Three Gorges project is relatively more economical than any other alternative. The number of people to be relocated has already been carefully ascertained through repeated investigations. The new policy known as population relocation for development has been welcomed in the area because it allows for stable production and livelihoods for the local population, in contrast to the earlier plan which granted a single lump-sum payment. Four years of experiments have proved that this is an effective and correct policy. The local governments have also promised to do their job in resettling their own populations. So it is groundless to say that population relocation, not being fully understood, could be a source of endless investment. As for the fund needed for this project, our economic situation as a whole would not be greatly affected if the revenues from the electricity generated by the Gezhouba dam could be used for this purpose. In addition, state bonds could be issued, other financial resources mobilized and foreign loans solicited.

The Three Gorges project, therefore, should be approved. In order to improve the design and the plans of the project, studies could be undertaken without, however, influencing the 1984 decision already made by the Central Committee.5 The earlier the project is launched, the fewer the resources needed, the smaller the economic losses will be and the greater the benefit to the four modernizations. This was the scientific conclusion of the majority of the experts who participated in the assessment of the project.

Some criticisms were leveled against the departments in the Ministry of Water Resources, and especially against the Yangtze Valley Planning Office (YVPO), alleging that for many years attention had been focused only on the Three Gorges to the neglect of the development of the tributaries, which is contrary to the principle of developing the tributaries first and the mainstream of the river second. This allegation is neither true nor fair. First of all, our national policy towards river management and control has never adopted such a principle. The priorities are given to the tributaries or to the mainstream according to the results of scientific evaluations of economic and technological situation. In fact, as far as the Yangtze River is concerned, the tendency over the past 38 years has been to treat the tributaries first and the mainstream later. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the state has invested heavily in capital construction projects along the Yangtze River basin. These projects are all on the tributaries, except for the ongoing Gezhouba dam project, which is situated on the mainstream of the river.

According to statistics from 1983, altogether 23 billion m3 of earth and stonework went into the reinforcement of the river dikes, in order to regulate the rivers and control irrigation and flooding. As a result, 3,570 kilometers of river embankment and 30,000 kilometers of dikes have been repaired or strengthened. The height of the 182-kilometer embankment along the Jingjiang River has been increased by about 1.5 to 2 meters and some potentially vulnerable points have been reinforced. Quite a number of flood diversion and storage basins were completed, with a capacity of more than 50 billion m3. About 48,000 large, medium and small reservoirs were built with a total capacity of 122.2 billion m3, while the 105 large reservoirs on the tributaries have a combined capacity of 73.3 billion m3. They have played a significant role in flood control for both the Yangtze River basin and its tributaries. In addition they have met 62 percent of the irrigation needs, coping with the droughts of the past years, and ensuring good harvests in the areas concerned.

In terms of electricity generation, as of 1985, the completed or unfinished large and medium hydro-electric plants have a total installed capacity of more than 17 million kWh, with an aggregate output of electricity of more than 72 billion kWh. In addition, small power plants already constructed in the rural areas produce about 4 million kWh. Finally, pumped irrigation schemes with an installed capacity of 6.24 million kWh, as well as 7,000 small and large water drainage pipes and gates, have been installed. Up until 1985, about 56.72 million mu of land could be protected from flooding, which accounted for about 82 percent of the total land area affected by potential flooding.

Beyond this, in 1954 the YVPO called together a great number of technological personnel and started the comprehensive plan for the development of the Yangtze River basin while the initial stages of the Three Gorges project also began. The draft plan was finished in 1957. In March, 1958, at the Chengdu conference the Politburo of the Party Central Committee adopted a document entitled “Report on the Main Design Features of the Three Gorges Project.” On the basis of this document, the planning office modified its draft, and in 1959 submitted “Report on the Main Points of Preliminary Design.” In 1983 the State Planning Commission examined and endorsed the instructions for the revision and updating of “The Yangtze River Basin Development Plan.” In March, 1988, the YVPO once again produced the “Supplementary Report on the Comprehensive Development of the Yangtze River Basin.” In 1988, the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Power invited members of the State Planning Commission and the relevant departments from the State Council and the provinces to a forum for discussion and consultation, where unanimous agreement was reached on the content of the Yangtze River Basin Development Plan. It was also decided at the forum that the YVPO would make further modifications to the supplementary report and produce a formal report by the end of 1988. That report would then be submitted to the departments concerned, and finally to the State Council for approval. In the past 30 years, the YVPO has carried out extensive scientific research, both academic and experimental, in connection with the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges project. As a result of numerous experiments and comparisons along with the urgency of the realization of the four modernizations, it is clear that there is no alternative to the Three Gorges project for flood control, electricity, navigation, economic development in the reservoir area, and extensive economic benefits. Construction on the tributaries alone could not meet the diversity of needs that the Three Gorges project can. Thus, harnessing the Yangtze River floods for the economic development of the lower and middle reaches can ensure the security of hundreds of thousands of human lives and millions of yuan worth of property. In addition, it can relieve acute electricity shortages and strains on the coal supply for the thermal power plants in central and eastern China. It can also realize the image of the Yangtze River as a golden waterway by permitting a fleet of 10,000-tonne ships to sail directly from Wuhan to Chongqing.

For these reasons, it is necessary to launch the project as early as possible. This is the scientific conclusion reached through repeated assessments and evaluations. Faced with all these facts, how could anyone say the YVPO has been concerned only with the Three Gorges while neglecting the tributaries? Some even accuse experts and specialists from the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power of trying by fair means and foul to launch a “long-and-dragged-out-project,”6 in order to enhance their reputation while damaging national economic interests.

Some comrades favor the idea of “tributaries first and the mainstream of the river second” with regard to the construction of reservoirs and hydro-electric power plants along the Yangtze River. They contend that the tributary reservoirs require less investment and offer quicker results than the Three Gorges project, which would therefore make the Three Gorges unnecessary. This assumption has no scientific basis at all. In terms of flood control, there are only about a dozen tributary reservoirs serving that function and they are scattered on several tributaries over an area of 1,000,000 km2. Because precipitation may be concentrated in particular areas of the drainage basin, not all of these reservoirs can fulfill their flood-control function at the same time. Moreover, further downstream from these reservoirs is an area of heavy precipitation, 300,000 km2 in size, that is not yet under control and where if storms occur, flooding of the Yangtze cannot be avoided. So, in terms of flood control, the functions of the tributary reservoirs cannot compare with those of the Three Gorges reservoir.

As for hydro-electric power generation, a project with a water level of 175 meters, an installed capacity of 17.68 million kW, and an ultimate yearly output of 84 billion kWh, would solve the problem of acute energy shortages in central and eastern China foreseen for the beginning of the 21st century. Through the assessment and the repeated analyses by the hydro-electricity experts, the Three Gorges project is considered to be much better than the 118 large- and medium-sized hydro-electric power plants already constructed or the 31 planned or under construction, and the numerous water-power stations waiting to be developed in central and eastern China, eastern Sichuan and Guizhou. Those so-called alternative projects, which are mainly concerned with the generation of electricity, can neither play a significant role in flood control in the lower and middle reaches, nor improve navigation on the Chuanjiang River.7 Therefore, none of them could replace the Three Gorges project. Even developing the Xiangjiaba and Xiluodu dams on the Jinsha River could not improve flood control an navigation, even though their installed capacity and electrical output might be about the same as the Three Gorges reservoir. Construction at these locations is more complicated because of the possibility of earthquakes.

Even if every possible effort is made in this respect, it would not be possible to start construction within a few years’ time. In addition, these two dams are about 800-1000 kilometers west of the proposed Three Gorges dam, increasing the distance for electricity transmission to central and eastern China. Why should we develop the more distant points and waste the closer one? In comparison with thermal plants of the same scale, the Three Gorges project could save 40 million tonnes of coal per year. Eastern and central China could only be provided with coal from Shanxi province where the lack of water prohibits the development of coal resources, the construction of power generating plants, and the transportation of coal by slurry. Given the present overload on railway transportation, relying on thermal plants to meet the demands for electricity in central and eastern China would necessitate laying more than 1,000 kilometers of additional track and opening up of several large-scale coal mines to ensure the supply for the thermal plants. This is not an economical use of time or money. Furthermore, the thermal plants create considerable pollution and coal is a valuable but non-renewable source of energy. Why should we refuse to develop hydro-electric power, which is cleaner and more cost-effective? The waters of the Yangtze are potential energy sources that should not be wasted.

Although nuclear power is a very promising energy source, we need some time to accumulate our own experience in this field, because of its belated development in our country. The funds required to install plants are much higher than for hydro-electric power stations; for instance, the construction cost of the Daya Bay nuclear power plant near Hong Kong is US$4 billion, $2,222 per kWh (about Y8,300-11,000 per kWh). It is therefore impossible to build nuclear plants within a decade or more to replace the Three Gorges reservoir. Besides, the nuclear plants cannot control flooding or improve navigation.

In calculating the budget, the figures provided by the YVPO and the leading group are all based on a realistic assessment of construction costs and a precise calculation of the number of people to be relocated, with due consideration given to various unpredictable factors. Estimates that the actual costs would be several billions, even Y20 billion more than the YVPO and leading group figures, have no scientific basis. Nor do they use the same criteria to compare the budgets for the tributary reservoirs with that of the Three Gorges project. How can anyone convince others without such a comparison?

Some cited the Gezhouba dam project as an example, claiming that it is a “rule” at home and abroad to quadruple the estimates to arrive at the final budget for a hydro-electric power construction project.8 First, it is unrealistic to take the Gezhouba dam as an example in this sense. The proposed budget of Y1.35 billion for the Gezhouba dam project was drawn up in 1970 by the then Wuhan Military Region and the Revolutionary Committee of Hubei province without preliminary estimates or preparation. As such, it was an “ultra-leftist” product of the Cultural Revolution. This figure could not be treated as a realistic estimate of the project.

In November, 1974, after two years of planning and design by the YVPO, the initial estimated budget approved by the State Council was Y3.556 billion, of which the first stage of construction was set at Y2.3 billion. That figure was very close to the true cost of the first-stage ,Y2.471 billion, when it was completed in 1981. In 1983, the planning office reestimated the funds for the second stage of construction, increasing the original Y3.556 billion to Y4.848 billion, which was approved by the State Council after examination by the State Planning Commission.

How could anyone say that the estimate had quadrupled? The additional funds were due to an increase of 50,000 kW in the installed capacity of the generation units, to an increase in the voltage of the transmission lines, as well as to an increase in the price of construction materials. It is fair only to compare Y3.556 billion with Y4.848 billion, and to take into consideration the reasonable factors behind the increase. As for the figure of Y1.35 billion, it should never have been considered as an estimate.

Since it came on line seven years ago, the Gezhouba dam has already shown substantial economic benefits, having generated more than 52 billion kWh of electricity, which would have otherwise required 20.82 million tonnes of standard coal. On the basis of Y3.00 per kWh, it has generated a value of Y156.9 billion of industrial production value for the country. Therefore it has been highly praised by the state. Describing the project as a “historical error” and a “long-and-dragged-out project” does not respect the truth. As for the “rule” in foreign countries that the final budget is four times higher than that of the estimate, we have no concrete examples. In capitalist countries, budgets for electrical generating stations are usually bid upon by contractors. If the “four-times-more rule” were true, no one would dare to make a bid. The intention of those people is very clear. By citing the “rule” to show that the Three Gorges project was bound to fall into such a category, they hoped to kill this so-called “long-and-dragged-out project.” This is not a scientific approach at all.

In terms of construction time, if one is talking about one or two tributary projects, construction might be less costly and yield faster results. But when it comes to the construction of more than a dozen dam projects as an alternative to the Three Gorges project, then I ask how much money would be needed and how long construction would last? As for some of the tributary projects that are envisaged, so far as I know, the geological and resettlement studies have yet to be completed, and preparations are still in the initial stages. Under such conditions, how could anyone calculate the actual budgets and the construction period for these dams? Conversely, all the basic data concerning the Three Gorges project has been assembled and present a fairly clear picture of the proposed project. With completion of the preparation work, the project will be ready to start at any time. If modern construction methods are employed, in a little over 10 years, the first group of hydro-electric generators will be functioning. (And during the course of construction, by resorting to temporary shiplocks and by using the low-head generating units on the cofferdams, it may take only nine years to produce power.) Then, subsequent construction work can be covered by revenue from the production of electricity. All these advantages are unavailable for the alternative projects on the tributaries. The allegation that in the next 20 years the Three Gorges dam could not be used effectively is totally out of touch with the facts.

As for the issue of our national financial strength, it is appropriate to take the state’s financial difficulties and the critical state of our economic reforms into account when considering the huge investment required for the Three Gorges project. But the production of electricity is the vanguard of our entire national economic development. In order to assure a continuous supply of electricity for our four modernizations it is imperative to launch the project as soon as possible. In spite of the state’s acute financial difficulties, the project can be managed through careful arrangements to ensure the funding.

A precedent can be found in the Baoshan Iron and Steel Complex in Shanghai, which cost about Y32.7 billion in its first and second stages of construction, with the third stage yet to begin. Although opposed by many at the beginning, it proved economically worthwhile and did not exceed the state’s financial capacity. In fact, the first stages of the Daya Bay and Qingshan nuclear plants, together with the 1.2 million kWh nuclear power plants under negotiation with Germany, required about Y26.2 to Y34.5 billion, which is close to the amount required for the Three Gorges project. Since the state is able to offer such a large sum of money to build nuclear power plants in a short period of time with a production capacity of only 4.3 million kWh, then it is also well within the national economic capacity to raise Y29.8 billion-plus the cost of transmission lines-to invest in the Three Gorges project with an installed capacity of 17.68 million kW.

In reality, the Three Gorges project will not cost the state so much. With an annual output of 84 billion kWh, it will produce an annual income of over Y5 billion. The total output during the construction period of 11 to 17 years will reach 300 billion kWh, which means total revenue of Y18 billion, calculated on the basis of Y0.06 per kWh. (That is an unreasonably low rate for electricity and will inevitably change in the future, thereby increasing the total income.) Should the project be launched now, the electricity charges collected would allow the project to finance itself after the first group of generators goes into operation in 10 years.

The present Y11 billion estimated for resettlement was determined on the basis of a lump-sum compensation, not on the principle of population relocation for development. A four-year experiment using this principle showed it is more economical than lump-sum payments. For instance, on the basis of the plan for a 175-meter water level, 330,000 people in the rural areas should be relocated and 420,000 mu of land submerged, requiring compensation of more than Y1.6 billion. If the experience gained from the above-mentioned experiment were applied, only part of the 3.89 million mu of barren land on the hill slopes designated for the resettlement of 361 towns would have to be devoted to the cultivation of 800,000 mu of orange groves. (The income for every mu of orange grove is about four or five times that of fields of grain.) According to the calculation of Y500 per mu for cultivable land, the total comes to Y400 million. Allowing for hidden costs, let us say altogether Y600 million. It is still only a fraction of the Y1.6 billion, and this alone can save one billion yuan.

As far as social benefits are concerned, the output of 84 billion kWh a year would create a total output of more than Y250 billion in industrial production value for the state, assuming a production value of Y3.00 per kWh. The day construction is completed would coincide with recovery of the total investment in the project. This can be guaranteed. In addition, there would be significant benefits both for flood control and navigation. With so many advantages for society, the Three Gorges project should be started as soon as possible.

Some people have argued that it is inappropriate to construct such a large-scale project in the initial stages of socialist society. That argument is not tenable. Everyone knows that the large rivers of China, prone to flooding, have not yet been brought under control. Among them, flood control of the Yangtze River is weakest of all. The dikes along both banks of the Jingjiang River are not strong enough to sustain a 1,000-year flood. The safety of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers has an important bearing on the nation as a whole. Catastrophic flooding could disrupt our overall national economic planning and delay implementation of the four modernizations. At the present time, when the whole nation is working heart and soul to overcome economic difficulties, we could not sustain such a devastating blow.

Records for the past 2,000 years show that floods occur every 10 years on the Yangtze. Since the big floods on the Yangtze and the Huaihe rivers in 1954, the Yangtze River has not had a full flood throughout its entire basin. So it seems probable that a big flood will come soon. Nature does not care what stage of development a society is in. But a big flood could come precisely when we are in the initial stages of socialist development, and when economic reforms are in a very difficult period, making us unable to sustain heavy losses of human life and property.

The general industrial and agricultural output in the Yangtze River basin accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s total, and it is at the heart of key development areas. Thus, removing the danger of floods as soon as possible is of great strategic importance to ensure further economic reform. Unless the Three Gorges project is launched at the earliest date possible, we will face such danger throughout our socialist economic construction.

We should consider the ability of our economy to sustain the construction of the project. But we should also take into account the fact that, without the project, the state and the nation could risk even greater losses-probably beyond the tolerance of the country’s economy.

It is normal to have different points of view and concerns about such a huge project. Since the adoption of the plan for the 150-meter water level by the Party Central Committee in 1984, attention has been given to opposing opinions. After further investigations of the proposed reservoir area in 1986, instructions were given to the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power to organize experts and specialists from all scientific fields to reassess the project. The Central Committee has shown considerable democracy in the decision-making process concerning important issues and policies. In accordance with the decision of the committee, the ministry invited 412 experts and consultants from 40 specific fields within economics, science and technology to form 14 experts’ groups.

These people came from 12 research institutes under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 21 ministries, departments, and commissions under the State Council, 11 national associations or institutes recommended by the Chinese Association of Sciences, 29 institutes of higher learning, and eight provinces and cities along the Yangtze River basin. Among the experts were 15 members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 66 professors and associate professors, 38 researchers and associate researchers and 251 senior engineers, totaling 370 people, accounting for 89.9 percent of the entire assessment team. In addition, many supplementary studies were carried out by researchers in each field.

The whole process has taken about two years; but now, when the assessment is about to reach an affirmative conclusion, some comrades have started to criticize the decision by the Central Committee to let the ministry take charge of the assessment work. They have accused the ministry of not taking a democratic and scientific approach to the issue, alleging that most of the 412 participants were under the control of the ministry-48.3 percent were from the units engaged in the field of water resources and electricity, while 51.7 percent came from other sections of departments outside the ministry. They accuse the ministry of suppressing opposing positions, and of even having gone so far as to say, “submit false statements and data to create a long- and-dragged-out project.”

This kind of accusation is difficult to understand. What was wrong with the decision made by the Central Committee? Would it be democratic and scientific to entrust the assessment of a project concerning water resources and hydro-electricity to a department that has neither responsibility nor expertise in this field, rather than to the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power, which has the best concentration of scientists and experts in this field? Both the experts and the others, whatever their opinions, had plenty of opportunities to express their viewpoints during the assessment. How could it be said that the experts were under the control of the ministry? Doesn’t such an allegation amount to a personal insult? Moreover, it is inappropriate to dismiss the project in a hasty manner, since the assessment is still not fully completed, the feasibility report has not yet been written, and the Examination Committee on the project has not yet been formed.9 And thus, to reject the conclusion of the assessment and the Three Gorges project would be unscientific.

Everything has two different viewpoints, the correct and incorrect. The opinion held by the minority could be correct or incorrect. As for the debate on the Three Gorges project, is it democratic and scientific to listen to the opinions held by the minority alone-to reject the project-without any sound scientific evidence? The debate has been going on for more than 30 years. Those who favor it, the scientists, technicians and departments concerned, have been working very hard night and day for the past 30 years-carrying out surveying and investigations, planning, completing scientific studies and research-and have achieved considerable results in this respect. But up till today, those who oppose the project, as far as I can see, have not been able to present any new or convincing scientific evidence. They simply repeat old slogans of the 1950s, inventing more and more accusatory labels for the achievements made by the scientists and experts, and arbitrarily dismiss them with many irrelevant accusations. It does not conform with the values we have been promoting, that is, respect for knowledge, respect for science and respect for intellectuals.

Now, some have come out to say that “the Three Gorges project is a political issue,” and one has to be “responsible to history.” This in itself is not wrong, but those who say it are referring to the launching of the project as a “political blunder,” as an act of “irresponsibility to history.” I think the reverse is true.

From 1860 to 1870, there were two severe floods in the Yangtze River, which caused tremendous losses. The 1931 flood submerged 50.9 million mu of land with a death toll of 145,000. Flood waters remained in the city of Hankou for three months. Later, in 1935, another flood submerged 22.64 million mu of land with a loss of 142,000 lives. The flood in 1954, after the Liberation, inundated 47.55 million mu of land, drowned 30,000 people, and ruptured railway links between Beijing and Wuhan for 100 days, even though the Jingjiang River dikes and those around the main parts of the city of Wuhan were not affected. If a flood like that in 1954 occurred today, the human and economic losses would surely be much greater, because of the substantial increase in population and the significant development of industry and agriculture in the area. On top of the losses, considerable funds would be needed to restore people’s lives and reconstruct the economy. The combined losses described above would far exceed the cost for the entire construction of the Three Gorges project.

The frequent occurrence of localized floods in parts of the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers may serve as a serious warning. In 1985 and 1986, floods occurred in the Liaowa River.10 They caused damage of Y6-7 billion.11 The 1988 flood in the Nenjiang River, in the northeast, cost Y2.5 billion. One in the Liujiang River in Guangxi Y900 million, and another in Dongting Lake in Hunan, more than Y4 billion. By historical standards, 1988 witnessed a medium level of flood disaster. According to statistics, 175 million mu were affected by flood in 1988: 81 million mu were destroyed, 1.14 million houses were washed away and 2,895 people died. The total economic loss was Y13.5 billion.

We must prepare for the floods in the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers both psychologically and materially. But this, in my point of view, is far from enough. “If you do not think of the future, then you are bound to have worries in the present,” is a Chinese proverb that should remind us never to forget that we are constantly being threatened by natural disasters.

In view of this situation, I sincerely hope the Central Committee takes careful consideration of the Three Gorges project and reaches a decision that will benefit the overall economic situation in the long run. Even if the launching of the project were postponed for a couple of years, I believe it would still be necessary to find ways for the population in the areas concerned to develop their local economy and to start the work of resettlement as soon as possible. This includes relocating the 330,000 people in the rural area under the 175-meter-water-level plan, and within 8 to 10 years at the latest, transplanting 80,000 mu of orange groves so as to provide proper conditions for a stable and productive life. Because orange trees need so long a time to reach the fruit-bearing period, transplanting those trees would have to precede relocation of the population.

In 1986, while inspecting the Three Gorges area, Comrade Zhao Ziyang instructed the people in the reservoir area to take full advantage of the natural conditions by developing more orange groves along slopes of the river. Now the people are very enthusiastic about the cultivation of oranges there. If relocation were to be started several years later, then it would be difficult and more costly to expropriate land since it would have already been turned into groves by the local people. The same case can be made for the resettlement of towns and cities, as early planning is needed to make sure public facilities such as highways, public bus lines, telephones, electricity, and water supplies, are ready beforehand. The economic development of the reservoir area has been delayed for several dozen years, the cities are very crowded and living space is limited, with outdated facilities.

Since preparation for the Three Gorges project began, although the government has time and again forbidden any capital construction in areas below the proposed water level of the future reservoir, construction has been going on all the time, resulting in the growth of the population, as well as of enterprises and factories. It is impossible to keep the area in a static state. This calls for the state to give overall consideration to the development of the area both in the long and short terms.

If the problem is not solved, then the state will have to pay more compensation later. According to estimates, the cost for resettlement will increase by 7 percent or more for every year the project is delayed. Each year, as the local population increases and, with the introduction of private property, the people’s living standard rises, so do the prices for each of the items to be submerged. Also, it becomes more expensive to administer all the aspects of social organizations made more complex by the rise in literacy and economic development. The difficulty of resettling the population will also increase, resulting in huge waste that will aggravate the poverty of the masses in the reservoir area. All these factors should merit our serious consideration.

That is all I wish to say. Your opinions and comments are welcome.

Sources and Further Commentary

1This statement was included in the original Chinese edition of Yangtze! Yangtze! in order to present pro-dam arguments.

2Previously, Li Boning was the deputy minister of the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power. In 1989 he became deputy chair of the Economic Construction Group of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Presently, he is the director of the Population Relocation Bureau of the Three Gorges Project Development Corporation.

3The move away from grain production into more highly profitable forms of production, such as cash crops, including flowers, since the inauguration of economic reforms in agriculture in 1978, has been a major concern among more conservative-minded leaders such as Chen Yun.

4This is a concept of economic development relying heavily on market mechanisms introduced by Zhao Ziyang at the October, 1987, Thirteenth Party Congress.

5The Central Committee adopted a plan for a 175-meter dam with a normal pool level of 150 meters.

6These are projects that are said to need limited investment at the beginning, but require more and more funds once they are started.

7This section of the Yangtze stretches for 1,030 kilometers between Yibin and Yichang in the upper reaches.

8Originally, a total investment of Y1.35 billion was estimated for the Gezhouba dam along with a construction period of five years. Ultimately, the dam cost Y5 billion and took 19 years to complete. See Luk and Whitney, editors’ Introd. to Megaproject, p. 6.

9The committee was eventually set up in July, 1990, and was headed by Zou Jiahua.

10Part of the Danjiankou reservoir.

11The massive floods that occurred in the summer of 1991 in Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces were used by both sides in this debate. Proponents of Three Gorges asserted that the floods demonstrated the necessity for the project, whereas opponents noted that the dam would not have prevented this flooding because it occurred downstream of the dam site.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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