Controversy Over Three Gorges Dam Could Spark Power Struggle

Controversy Over Three Gorges Dam Could Spark Power Struggle
(Andrew Wong/Getty Images)

In early April, Beijing University Professor Sheng Jiemin and 12 scholars cosigned a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao. The letter called for the government to abolish the monopoly of control over the Three Gorges Dam facilities on the Yangzi River, including lifting tolls on roads near the dam and making sightseeing free of charge. Tourism at the Three Gorges Dam is controlled by Three Gorges Dam Tourism Development Ltd. (TGDTD). The company is a joint venture of three parties: Yichang Municipal Government, Shenzhen Huaqiao City Group, and Three Gorges Dam Project Corp. It is the only government sanctioned company to manage tourism at the dam.

Tolls on monopolized roads around the dam are set at 105 Yuan (approximately US$13.6), making it unaffordable for many tourists. Passage of large river vessels has increased from half an hour to 13 hours due to a slow water-land-water transfer process. This has hurt economic prosperity for many Chinese transport companies.

The 2007 Report Protection and Development of Yangzi River compiled by the Chinese Academy of Science, Yangzi Water Resource Conservancy Committee, and the World Wildlife Foundation, concluded that the dam has exacerbated pollution in the river by sparking algae overgrowth. After the enclosure of the reservoir in front of the dam, the frequency of low level earthquakes has also increased dramatically and the area has experienced thousands of land slides.

Some scholars also believe the dam lead to the extreme drought in the Chongqing area in Sichuan province last year by blocking the only outlet of the Sichuang Basin. The drought was the most severe in the last one hundred years and experts believe it could be even worse this year.

The Three Gorges Dam was arrogantly built by the Chinese communist regime in the name of “developing the economy” and “benefiting the people”. Yet it has only brought damage to the economy and environment. It is no surprise that not a single central party official attended the opening ceremony of the dam’s completion. Even former Premier Li Peng, who promoted the project most aggressively, was also conspicuously absent from the event.

It seems what Li Peng has really achieved from this project is his own political damnation rather than the dream dam he had hoped for. Support for the dam has already collapsed in people’s hearts, and Li Peng’s legacy of crime and corruption has left a stain on China’s history equal to the likes of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre (that he orchestrated).

As the 17th Party’s Congress approaches, it is quite possible that Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao could use the controversy of the Three Gorges Dam to oust the remnants of Li Peng’s political circle from China’s power base, as they have done to many others under the “anti-corruption campaign.” This would certainly be in their political interest of consolidating power.

Chen Pokong is a Chinese author and political commentator who lives in the United States.