Tibetans protest forced resettlement due to Chinese dam project

Residents of at least 2 villages and 6 monasteries will have to relocate, sources say.
By Sonam Lhamo and Pelbar for RFA Tibetan
Tibetans protest forced resettlement due to Chinese dam project Tibetans in Dege county in southwestern China’s Sichuan province protest the Chinese government’s construction of a hydropower dam on the Drichu River, Feb. 14, 2024.
Citizen journalist

UPDATED at 5:36 P.M. ET on 02-26-2024

At least 300 Tibetans protested in Sichuan province on Wednesday against the building of a hydropower dam that would displace residents of two villages and six monasteries, Tibetans with knowledge of the situation told Radio Free Asia. 

The demonstrators gathered outside the Dege County Town Hall in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to demand that local authorities halt construction of the 1,100-megawatt Gangtuo Dam on the Drichu River.

Such protests – video of which was obtained by Radio Free Asia – are rare in China, particularly among Tibetans, due to strict controls on public gatherings and extensive surveillance through the widespread use of technology to monitor activity and communication.

“Halt the dam project,” protesters can be heard shouting in the video, as Chinese county officials told protesters they have no say in the matter and urged them to stop shouting.

The massive project is expected to force an unknown number of Tibetans in the upper district of Wangbuding township near the river to relocate, said two sources, one of whom lives inside Tibet, while the other lives in exile. They spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns. 

The Drichu River, called the Jinsha River in Chinese, runs through more than 10 provinces in Tibetan-inhabited areas and China. It is located on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, one of the most important waterways in China and the third-longest river in the world. 

Long-term plan

Some of China’s largest hydropower projects have been built on rivers that originate in the Tibet Autonomous Region and extend into Tibetan-populated areas of Chinese provinces. Tibetan activists argue that they disrupt natural flows of water and silt that are vital for making farmland fertile, play havoc with local ecosystems, and displace nearby residents.

“The Chinese government has been planning for the past decade to dam the Drichu River near Wangbuding in Dege County with the aim of building a large hydroelectric plant,” said the Tibetan living in exile. “Now the project has formally begun, which means that both the villages and six monasteries in the upper district of Wangbuding area will have to be relocated.”

Dege County Police did not immediately respond to RFA’s request for comment.

“In Tibet, there are many Tibetan villages and towns along the Drichu River, but the Chinese government, without paying any heed to the local people’s needs or to the environmental hazards, has built several dams already and they plan to build many more,” said Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen, deputy director of the Tibet Policy Institute, the Tibetan government-in-exile’s policy and research arm.

“This is further proof of their complete lack of concern for the welfare and environment of Tibet,” he said.

Following the protests, Chinese authorities increased security measures and have been trying to identify protest organizers and participants, two sources inside Tibet said. 

Construction on another dam project on the Drichu River for the Yebatan hydropower station, which will be the largest hydroelectric dam on the river’s upper reaches, began in December 2016. Like the Gangtuo Dam, the project is part of China's '1 reservoir, 13 hydropower-station complex' project on the Drichu River.

So far, workers have completed building more than 100 meters (328 feet) of the maximum dam height of 217 meters (712 feet), China’s state-controlled Global Times reported in December 2023.

The entire project is expected to be completed in 2026.

Translated and edited by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

The story was updated to add the name of the Gangtuo Dam and to correct the amount of megawatts of electricity it will produce, and to specify that the Yebatan hydropower station is another part of China's '1 reservoir, 13 hydropower-station complex' project on the Drichu River.


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