Dams and Landslides

Three Gorges project authority: a thief crying stop thief

Dai Qing
October 5, 2007

Probe International Fellow Dai Qing comments on China’s admission that the Three Gorges dam could cause environmental catastrophe.

The whole world is talking about the news: China officially admits that the Three Gorges dam project is likely to cause environmental ‘catastrophe’. As one of those dedicated to voicing problems with the project since the 1980s, I felt happy at first then worried, then angry and then shame – shame for what the dam project authority has done for more than twenty years.

I feel happy because finally the dam authority no longer refuses to face up to the project’s serious troubles and problems.

I am still worried, however, if the dam authority is playing games with the goal of “throwing one stone for two birds.” Admitting to problems with the project allows the authority to distance itself from future consequences that will destroy people’s beautiful land and burden the younger generation. The admission also makes it easier for the project authority to request additional funds from the central government in the name of addressing environmental problems. As everybody knows, dealing with environmental problems is a money-hungry business, so the dam authority can take advantage of this opportunity to demand billions of dollars from the central government. As one of the Chinese taxpayers, I would like the government to audit the project authority’s spending and examine how much money has gone to power industry staff who are living a decent life, compared to the people affected by the Three Gorges dam who live in miserable circumstances.

Why do I get angry hearing officials say they are worried about Three Gorges? This is because in the 1980s the project authority turned a deaf ear to warnings made by scientists such as Sun Yueqi and Zhou Peiyuan, both deceased. They urged the government to pay attention to the risk of environmental and geological disasters caused by building the Three Gorges dam. Why, after the Chinese Academy of Sciences concluded, following an intensive study sponsored by the State Council, that although there would be positives and negatives associated with building the Three Gorges dam, its “costs outweigh the benefits,” why did the dam authority overturn this conclusion by producing another more optimistic assessment after the 1989 Tiananmen incident? And how did the project authority treat preeminent scientists Huang Wanli, Chen Guojie, Hou Enzhi, Lu Qinkan, Guo Laixi and Lei Hunshun, among others, who made pleas again and again, calling for more attention to emerging disasters such as rapid sedimentation, frequent landslides and riverbank collapses, all brought about by the construction of the Three Gorges dam? Even one month ago, when the foreign media reported that the situation along Three Gorges is getting worse, why did the dam authority still try to cover up these troubles and cheat the Chinese people with themes of nationalism and patriotism?

Shame on all of them! All of a sudden in the fall of 2007, Wang Xiaofeng, vice director of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, and Huang Xuebing, head of the geological disasters prevention department in the reservoir area, together with other senior officials and experts, have discovered their well-praised grand project will have negative impacts. In more than twenty years that have passed, the dam authority and official Chinese media have been reluctant to utter one word about problems with the big dam project. Instead they have tried to cover up, make false reports and deceive ordinary Chinese people. In this way, the officials in charge of the project from top to bottom gained financially and won political promotions, leaving environmental disasters and people in misery in their wake.

So the admission by senior officials can be seen as an apology to the Chinese people, and to the people displaced and even left homeless by Three Gorges. But this is definitely not enough. What project officials should do now is hand in the dirty money they took from the project either through embezzlement or by the project’s monopoly.

The warning of environmental catastrophe is, as the Chinese proverb goes, “a thief crying stop thief.”

I believe Wang Xiaofeng knows something about that. Why does such an unimportant person stand up and take responsibility for such a tremendously important issue? Where is Lu Youmei, former general manager of the Three Gorges Corp, who promised again and again, that building the dam project would be good for the environment?

Dai Qing is the editor of The River Dragon Has Come and Yangtze! Yangtze!

Translated by Mu Lan

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