WASHINGTON, June 20, 2003--Officials in western China and a well-connected Beijing firm are lobbying to build a new hydroelectric dam in an historically Tibetan area of Sichuan Province, despite concerns that it would harm the local environment, Radio Free Asia (RFA) has learned. The controversy has reached the highest levels of the Chinese government.
Local leaders in Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in what is now Sichuan Province, and the Hua Neng Co. of Beijing, have drafted plans for a 2 billion yuan ($300 million U.S.) hydroelectric dam on Yeti Lake, known in Chinese as Kangding Mugecuo Lake. Hua Neng Co. is owned by the son of former Chinese premier Li Peng.
Under their plan, Hua Neng Co., owned by Li Xiaopeng, and Karze Prefecture would share the cost of building the dam, although how much each party would pay was unclear. They would also share revenues generated by the dam, with Hua Neng taking 60 percent and the prefecture taking 40 percent, according to sources who asked not to be identified.
But Tibetans in the area have raised objections to the project on environmental grounds, arguing that any such dam would have disastrous consequences for local wildlife. Yeti Lake is under the protection of the Karze Prefecture Environmental Protection Bureau.
Local people protested in a letter to Tibetan officials, apparently in May, and asked them to block the project. One official sent the letter to Premier Wen Jiabao, who dispatched an inter-agency task force to the region to investigate. Upon returning to Beijing, they reported that the planned dam would boost local incomes and failed to detail any environmental concerns, the sources told RFA's Tibetan service.
But Tibetan officials remained skeptical and differed openly with members of the task force and Hua Neng Co. officials at a meeting June 13. The Tibetan officials and the task force have now taken the highly unusual step of sending contradictory reports to the State Council, which has the authority to block construction of the dam.
The Hua Neng Co. has since begun lobbying Karze officials to back the project, flying a group of them to Beijing to meet Central government officials.
No comment was immediately available from the Hua Neng Co. or the local authorities.
Yeti (Kangding Mugecuo) Lake is located in Dartsedo (in Chinese, Kanding) in an historically Tibetan area now under the administration of Sichuan Province. In recent years China has scrambled to generate enough energy to keep pace with economic growth. Bejing is going ahead with construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River--which is officially expected to cost at least $24 billion U.S. but could cost triple that amount.
RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.