Three Gorges Probe

PRESS RELEASE China’s Three Gorges dam resettlement turns violent

March 30, 2001
Chinese officials are using police force and violent means to force reluctant migrants to make way for the Three Gorges dam, and to punish anyone accusing local officials of wrongdoing.

Although Three Gorges officials insist the resettlement operation is progressing smoothly, Chinese academics and journalists report that people moved by the government to other provinces have been treated badly, and often end up without adequate housing or land.

Almost 300,000 people living along the Yangtze have already been moved, some as far away as coastal Jiangsu province and Xinjiang province in China’s vast northwest.

Now half-way completed, another quarter-million people will have to move by 2003 when the Three Gorges’ reservoir waters are scheduled to start rising behind the 185-metre high dam. Farmers in Yunyang county, an area that will lose its best farmland to the reservoir, chose eight representatives earlier this month to present their grievances to party officials in Beijing. Before they could do so, five of the representatives were arrested and three fled, according to Chinese journalist Wang Yusheng.

The homes of three of the men were ransacked and several of their family members were detained by Yunyang police. One man was robbed and stabbed. Arrested for “disturbing social order,” the five could face jail sentences of three to seven years.

In Kaixian, another county heavily affected by the dam, local authorities dispatched police and soldiers to breakup demonstrations by angry farmers complaining about treatment by officials. In their case, villagers had been forced to demolish most of their homes and share what was left with incoming settlers, without compensation or provisions for replacement shelter or land. During the protest, soldiers seriously injured 19 people and police detained 28 villagers, four of whom are believed still to be in custody, according to Chinese sources.

Beijing’s influential Strategy and Management journal warned of a crisis in the making in 1999. “The dam site threatens to become a hotbed for chaos throughout the first half of the 21st century, it said. “If resettlement problems continue to accumulate and intensify, when the water begins to flow, those not peacefully settled could turn into an explosive social problem.”

Canadian engineers envisioned building the world’s largest dam on the Yangtze river almost two decades ago. The federal government provided $14 million to BC Hydro, Hydro-Qu√©bec, SNC-Lavalin, and Acres International to conduct a feasibility study that would help the Chinese attract international financiers. By 1988, the Canadian engineers had concluded that the Three Gorges dam “should be carried out at an early date.”

If completed as planned in 2009, the homes of 1.5 million people will be submerged in a vast 600-kilometre long reservoir.

But in 1993, Hydro-Qu√©bec vice-president Pierre Senecal, admitted that due to population increases and a lack of available land in the Three Gorges area “the [Canadian] study’s recommendation that resettlement is feasible is not valid anymore.” “The use of force to move people out is not surprising,” says Grainne Ryder of Probe International, a Toronto-based group that published its first critique of the US$30-billion megaproject in 1990. “The resettlement plan once praised by Hydro-Quebec was never more tenable than Chairman Mao’s “grain first” policy, which led to mass persecution and famine.”

Canada’s Export Development Corporation was the first export credit agency to back Three Gorges. The crown corporation has lent the Chinese government $189 million to build the Three Gorges dam and related infrastructure, even though technical problems, social unrest from the people to be resettled, corruption, and shortage of funds (most international financiers consider the dam too risky) threaten to sink the project.

Agra-Monenco, General Electric Canada, Hydro-Quebec, and Teshmont Consultants have won Three Gorges-related contracts since its construction got underway in 1993.

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Probe International monitors Canadian involvement in China’s Three Gorges dam. Its Internet news service, Three Gorges Probe, is a leading source of project-related news and analysis.

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