China's Dams

Damming Asia’s watershed: China’s hydropower plans in Tibet

Interfax
August 4, 2006

After covering most of the rivers of southwestern China in dams and turbines, the big players in the industry – encouraged by the central government in Beijing – are now coveting Tibet, which is thought to have the biggest potential capacity of all.

Shanghai: The Tibetan belief that all bodies of water are sacred and inviolable is unlikely to hinder China’s power developers in their quest for new sources of electricity. After covering most of the rivers of southwestern China in dams and turbines, the big players in the industry – encouraged by the central government in Beijing – are now coveting Tibet, which is thought to have the biggest potential capacity of all. The completion of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, which has helped to integrate the remote, isolated region with the rest of the mainland, is likely to accelerate the process. Earlier this year, one of the “big-five” state-owned power giants, the Huadian Group, signed an agreement with the Tibet regional government on the construction of hydropower projects. The Huaneng Group, another big-five member, signed a similar deal in September 2005, announcing that it would strive to fully develop Tibet’s rivers in order to serve the requirements of the country’s West-East Power Transmission Project. These issues are crucial, not only for Tibet and not only for China. The 10 river systems that emerge from Tibet are required to sustain China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma and Bhutan, covering half the world’s population. … Echoing criticisms made by opponents of hydropower in Yunnan and other parts of southwestern China, Tashi Tsering, a Tibetan environmentalist now based in Canada, told Interfax that hydropower was of benefit only to the developers themselves. “Hydropower development for local economic development in Tibet is a facade,” he said. “Most of these large dams and water diversion projects are designed to benefit distant Chinese cities, not local communities,” he added. “Almost all of the cost-benefit studies of these projects are done at the recipient side. Even the construction workers are Chinese.” Asked whether large-scale hydropower development was suitable for Tibet, Fan Xiao, professor at the Sichuan Bureau of Geology and an active environmental campaigner, said, “Of course not. It is the place where several rivers originate. The environment in Tibet is rather fragile.”

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