Thursday, October 26, 2006

No to "Predatory Development"?

From the always invaluable Three Gorges Probe comes some relatively good news about plans to dam Asia's last free-flowing major river:
China's minister of water resources has poured cold water on the plan to build 13 dams on the Nu River in the southwest of the country, calling the proposal a form of "predatory development."

In a speech Tuesday [Oct. 24] at the University of Hong Kong, Wang Shucheng indicated high-level disapproval of the plan to build a string of large dams on the Nu as it flows through the Three Parallel Rivers National Park in Yunnan province.

Mr. Wang said concerns related to the park -- parts of which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003 -- as well as "downstream national interests," made it impossible to continue with the original plan.

China shares the Nu River with Burma and Thailand, where it is known as the Thanlwin (in Burmese) or the Salween (in English).
I said this was "relatively" good news, because though it appears the plan will be drastically scaled back, there will still be dams on the Nu River:
However, in his speech -- covered by several Hong Kong newspapers, including Ming Pao and Hong Kong Commercial Daily -- Mr. Wang also said that maintaining the status quo on Southeast Asia's last major free-flowing river is not an option.

Local governments are keen to exploit the Nu River's hydropower potential as soon as possible, Mr. Wang said, and he suggested that "one or two uncontroversial dams" will be built in the first instance.
There was some other good news in for China's downstream neighbors, India and Bangladesh, when Wang dismissed plans to divert water from a Tibetan river that affects their watersheds, calling the proposal "unnecessary, not feasible and unscientific."

If you're at all interested in environmental issues in China and the conflicts between central government policy and local governments' drive for development, Three Gorges Probe is a great site to bookmark. Three Gorges Probe also reports on the efforts of Chinese activists to protect the environment and the rights of local people whose lives are all too often disrupted by massive infrastructure projects and environmental degradation.

As I've said in the past, environmental issues are an area around which Chinese citizens have been able to organize and express themselves politically - if not often successfully, this sort of activism still offers a model for greater participation in civic life for ordinary Chinese people. I'll always remember that one of the first semi-independent acts of the National People's Congress was a vote on the proposed Three Gorges Dam in which a majority (or close to it) of delegates abstained. At the time, this was an act of near-rebellion.

The way that such issues are settled in the future is a harbinger of what kind of country China will become.

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