Months of heavy rain have battered China with record floods. And there are growing fears that the Three Gorges Dam may break. A breach of the dam would wipe out the homes of millions of Chinese. And it would likely destroy many of China’s pharmaceutical factories—which produce the drug precursors that the world relies on.
But the problem with Asia’s waters goes far beyond the Three Gorges Dam. To really understand what’s going on, we follow the water to its source.
Nine great rivers of Asia descend from the Tibetan plateau. After the Chinese Communist Party occupied Tibet, it has essentially monopolized these waters, according to longtime China and Tibet watcher Maura Moynihan. As she argues, whoever controls the water, controls the future.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Narration: Months of heavy rain have battered China with record floods, and there are growing fears that the Three Gorges Dam may break. A breach of the dam would wipe out the homes of millions of Chinese, and it would likely destroy many of China’s pharmaceutical factories, which much of the world depends on. But the problem with Asia’s waters goes far beyond the Three Gorges Dam. To really understand what’s going on, we follow the water to its source.
Maura Moynihan: We’re seeing Tibet die.
Narration: When it comes to understanding the water crisis in Asia, Maura Moynihan traces the problem to the Tibetan plateau.
Ms. Moynihan: And the water of Tibet is being weaponized and stolen from the peoples of Asia who have depended on it.
Narration: As a long time China watcher and Tibet activist, she has spent decades studying the realities of Tibet.
Ms. Moynihan: It’s one of the biggest most important stories in the world.
Narration: As the worst floods of the century hit China, we sit down with Maura Moynihan as she argues “whoever controls the water controls the future.” This is American Thought Leaders, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Maura Moynihan, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Ms. Moynihan: Thank you for inviting me again, Jan, it’s wonderful to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Maura, back in 2014, you testified on an issue in Congress that really hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. And that was actually how the Chinese Communist Party has been using the waters of Tibet: damning, militarization, a whole range of issues related to this. We’ve been watching over the past weeks the Three Gorges Dam basically being filled to near capacity, I think to the top level. It was just a few days ago, again, allegedly from the information that we’re getting. There’s people concerned that it could rupture. Of course, we’ve heard these rumors in the past. Tell me about what’s really happening with Three Gorges Dam from what you know.
Ms. Moynihan: Obviously there’s a crisis happening on the Yangtze River and around the dam or they would not have opened all of the gates to release the water into the Yangtze River Basin. And I followed the construction of this dam and this project from the early ’90s when it was first proposed. I believe that the groundbreaking ceremony was ’94 or ’95 when construction started.
The World Bank helped fund it and General Electric helped fund it. The Chinese of course, still played this double game—this is the PRC, CCP— of saying “We’re developing countries, so we need Western aid,” when in fact, they’re the world’s second largest economy. So a lot of Western firms help build it.
And many environmentalists were gravely concerned, especially people who understood the fragility of the ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau, from which the Yangtze River descends. The nine great rivers of Asia all descend from the Tibetan Plateau. And now here we are in 2020. And China is seeing biblical floods not just on the Yangtze but also on the Yellow which also originates from Tibet, from Northern Tibet near the Dalai Lama’s birthplace, Amdo province.
We always knew this day would come. Tibetan people, we always knew that there would be a point where the price of yoking and choking Tibet’s rivers would come due, and here it is. The Yellow and the Yangtze originated in Tibet, and they go through China, but the other rivers, the other great rivers of Asia, and that’s the Mekong, the Brahmaputra, the Indus, the Chenab [Sutlej], the Salween—they are transnational rivers.
And so the cost of yoking and choking that water, weaponizing that water and taking Tibet’s water to the thirsty mainland of the PRC has tremendous, tremendous consequences because Asia is the world’s most populous continent, and Asia is already having a serious water crisis, mostly aquifer loss because of industrialization.
But no one has ever discussed this issue. Nope, no one in the West wants to hear about it. And for me, it has been extremely frustrating to have done many, many years of research on this topic, and had the door slammed in my face again and again. And now here we are; we’re in a crisis. And I don’t think there’s a single think tank in America that’s working on this.
Mr. Jekielek: A lot to unpack here, and we’ll do that. That is what our episode will be about. But tell me a little more about the Three Gorges Dam itself. I mean, it’s the largest dam, hydroelectric project, in the world by a margin. It took a really great number of years to build. The cost in all sorts of ways—I think, according to the official statistics it was like four million people that were moved in order to basically create the reservoir for it. Can you tell me a bit about that and why there are actually concerns today that it could rupture?
Ms. Moynihan: Well, when the Chinese Communist Party says it’s four million, in Tibet we always say “Add a few more zeros.” So it’s probably more than four million people who were displaced when they created the reservoir. And of course, that was a historic area that I believe had UNESCO protection in some way. There were a few weak memos from UNESCO about how we should respect the cultural heritage of the Yangtze River Basin, Yangtze Valley. But that’s long gone, you know, that has been filled a long time ago.
And the other problem isn’t just the Three Gorges Dam, which is, as you said, the largest dam in the world, certainly the most expensive dam project to date in the world. There’s this silt and sedimentation problem that has been created by the dam. And there’s many reports that the dam was made with shoddy construction, and there are a lot of kickbacks and bribes around the construction of it. I’m sure it’s all true.
It is a project of course by the Black Hands Gang. As we know, there’s the White Hands Gang and the Black Hands Gang. The biggest power struggle in the world is these two factions within the CCP that circle around each other behind a garden, and never ever ever get reported in mainstream media in the West, much to the detriment of Western policy makers and analysts. They just don’t know or they don’t care or they don’t look into this power struggle. And this is a project in the Jiang Zemin family, the Shanghai Gang. They run Shanghai, and Li Peng’s family was also involved in it.
And [here’s] another feature of all the dams they built on the Yangtze. The Yangtze, as we know, comes from Eastern Tibet from upper Kham Province. It dips down towards southeast Asia, then it comes up again, and it goes straight horizontally through the Yangtze River Basin. It goes through Chongqing, Nanjing and then Shanghai. So they’ve used a lot of the dam projects to also transport raw materials, lumber, minerals and so forth, from Tibet.
My friends who have seen the Three Gorges Dam—it was a tourist attraction for many years, and I have some friends who did the Three Gorges Dam tour—they said the thing is monstrous. It’s just so huge. And they’re very proud of it as a great engineering feat. But we’re going to know fairly soon whether it’s going to withstand what seems to be a catastrophic flooding season.
It’s not just a heavy monsoon. Five years ago, I was in Kathmandu for the summer reporting for the “Asian Age”, and it was a very, very heavy monsoon and almost breached then. We were waiting to see, but it didn’t. But they didn’t open all the gates. Now they have opened all the gates now.
And there are conflicting reports. Of course, it’s impossible to get really accurate information right now out of the CCP, out of the PRC, but they did not inform downstream population centers that they were opening these gates. We have seen on Tiffany’s show and Joshua’s show “China In Focus” and “Crossroads,” catastrophic images of flooding, and Zee TV out of Delhi is also getting very good images of what’s going on downstream.
And also, there’s flooding behind the dam. Because again, this is never ever reported anywhere. It’s not just the Three Gorges. There are hundreds of dams on the Yangtze, starting in Tibet, as it dips down and as it goes straight through the middle of China. And some of them—there are small, medium and large dams, but there are thousands and thousands of dams all over Tibet now. It’s been going on for over 25 years now. And the project is complete; it’s too late to unbuild these dams. So that’s also contributing to the crisis at Three Gorges.
And another feature that is contributing to this catastrophe that’s unfolding is the clear cutting of the virgin forest in eastern Tibet that for centuries served as a bulwark as a dam to prevent mudslides and flooding into China. Well, that’s gone. They already clear cut all those forests a long time ago.
Twenty five years ago this month, I made a journey from Lhasa, Tibet’s capital in Ü-Tsang Province to Chamdo, the traditional capital of Kham province in eastern Tibet. It was the most arduous and difficult research trip of my entire life. Me and three Tibetan guys in a truck for a whole month, you know, going back and forth and staying in military hotels and so it was very difficult, but I got a lot of research done. And I got a lot of photographs of this clear cutting of the forest
Narration: At her Manhattan apartment, Moynihan showed me collections of photographs she captured on our trips to Tibet.
Mr. Jekielek: Maura, do you have a sense of how large the area that was cut was?
Ms. Moynihan: Millions of acres! Tibet has always been sparsely populated, because most of Tibet is what’s called the Chang Tang, which in Tibetan means the “Flat North.” And that’s where all the glaciers are, which is the source of the freshwater of the nine great rivers that nourish and cleanse the 3 billion people in the Asian continent.
And that is why Tibet is always called the “Crown of Shiva.” Because in Hindu mythology, Shiva caught Goddess Ganga on his head dress, his top knot, so she wouldn’t flood the world. And so the waters of Tibet flow from Shiva’s crown because Mount Kailash is where Lord Shiva is said to live. That’s his earthly abode, the top of Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain in western Tibet where five of the nine great rivers originate from.
And so if you look at maps of Tibet, you’ll just see a lot of it is uninhabitable [areas]. Look at these mountains. But there’s a population of Tibet—the original population was about 6 million in 1951, when the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] came into Tibet. At least 1.5 million people were killed with armed conflict and famine, and some studies say 2.53. We’ll never know because a lot of evidence has been covered up.
Now here it shows the water of Tibet. The pristine, sacred—this is Namtso which means “Skylake.” So “nam” is “sky,” and it’s this enormous salt lake. It’s like a sea. The Tibetan plateau is filled with seas. You can see how beautiful the pristine waters are.
These are the nomadic peoples that populated the Tibetan Plateau for centuries. And in the last 10 years, there’s been a very aggressive program by the CCP to put all the nomads on reservations, to take them off the grasslands so they can develop the grasslands. This is also contributing to the destruction of the habitat for animals. It is also harming the water supply, of course, creating desertification. There’s a tremendous amount of desertification with the collectivization of the nomads. And Michael Buckley has also done a lot of work on that they put them into these concrete [buildings], where they look like concentration camps, like prisons, and many nomads have committed suicide.
And again, you can see how beautiful Tibet is. You can see how the land is like the American West to the hundredth power. Because it’s higher, and it’s wider, and there’s more of it. And it’s the third largest ice mass on planet earth after the North and South poles—the Tibetan Plateau.
But the nomads were the last people that they had to corral and they had to rein in. And there I am with my guide and driver on the passes. In Tibet, passes are very sacred, to go cross a mountain pass. Nangpa La Pass, which links Nepal and Tibet, is a place where many Tibetans escaped when they were able to escape into Nepal. And those passes have all been closed by the CCP since the CCP has taken over Nepal, [and] killed the king.
As you can see, here’s a picture of Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party cadres. Tibetan children are required to recite a prayer for Chairman Mao every day in school that we love Chairman Mao more than our own father. And of course when he occupied Tibet—and Xinjiang was first— it comprised pretty much 50 percent of the People’s Republic of China landmass. About the minority peoples, there are about 70 million minority peoples in China, Chairman Mao said we are going to reincarnate them as red and expert Chinese citizens. And now we’re into the seventh, eighth decade now of the scientification project. And sadly, it appears that it’s quite successful.
This is traditional Tibetan clothes and garb and so forth. And a lot of this has been destroyed now. Everywhere we went, once they grew to trust us a little, all they wanted to know was, “How was his Holiness Dalai Lama? Was he safe in India? How was life in India? We’re thinking of going to India. We can’t stand it here—the patriotic reeducation where we’re forced to read the little red book again and again, and there are spies.”
Narration: Maura Moynihan first witnessed the plight of Tibetan refugees in India after her father Daniel Patrick Moynihan had been appointed U.S. ambassador to the country. In 1975, George H.W. Bush invited her family to visit China. So Moynihan became one of the very few Americans to visit China while the Cultural Revolution was still underway. And she witnessed China’s totalitarian dictatorship firsthand. Inside Tibet, what other dangers are looming? And will the Three Gorges Dam really collapse?
Mr. Jekielek: The latest messaging from the Chinese Communist Party propaganda is, I think it was, “On the 22nd, there were 10,000 tourists.” This is one of these day, I think, where all five gates were open. There were 10,000 tourists that were visiting the dam, presumably seeing this record waterflow. Your quick thoughts before we move on?
Ms. Moynihan: Wow. I wonder how much they got paid. All those tourists you know, rent-a tourists like rent-a protester. That sounds implausible to me, especially if the region’s being pelted with rain. I didn’t see any images of it. But we know the CCP always lies, and people always die, as a result.
Mr. Jekielek: What will be the cost should this dam not be able to support the water?
Ms. Moynihan: Well, if the dam does break, there’ll be—I mean, there’s just so much water in that reservoir that’s being held by the dam. And so you can imagine the force of that water going through the Yangtze River Basin all the way to Nanjing and then to Shanghai. It could wipe out Shanghai.
Five years ago when I was in Kathmandu for the summer, it almost breached then. There were scientists in other parts of Asia postulating what would be the likely outcome, and the worst case scenario is that it floods Shanghai – which is like New York City. It’s the financial capital of the PRC, and it’s a city of I believe 30 million people at this point.
And of course before then you have Nanjing, and you have all of the factories that largely make the medical supply, 80 to 90 percent of America’s medicines. This is Rosemary Gibson’s work I know you’ve had on the show “China RX.” I don’t know whoever thought that was a good idea. But it started long ago with the whole China-America project, this relocate everything to China for profit.
So that would have a catastrophic effect right away, the inability to access medicines that are needed, but it would also throw China into chaos. Now, many different things could happen. There are many different scenarios that we in the Tibet movement have rehearsed and played out and have speculated on again and again.
The most frightening would be they turn outward and they strike a military strike on the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan to deflect the nation’s, Chinese people’s, attention, to deflect attention from a domestic crisis that is entirely their fault. And blame the Western powers or blame Taiwan. I’m surprised so far, they haven’t yet blamed the Dalai Lama, who I’m wearing here [in a locket], because they usually blame him for everything. So far they haven’t.
That indicates to me that it’s a really serious crisis, and they don’t have their hands around it. But my theory is that if it does break, if it does break and there’s terrible flooding that gets all the way to Shanghai, well, they’ll start a military strike because they still have enough capacity to do that. Somewhere in Asia, they’ll start a military strike.
Mr. Jekielek: Maura, speaking of the military, you mentioned the weaponization of these waters. And it’s quite actually astounding, [to me] when we first were talking about this offline, that in fact, the nine major rivers of Asia—I mean, they’re talking about the water supply to billions of people—all originate in the Tibet plateau under Chinese Communist Party control. It’s just the Ganges, right? That doesn’t originate there?
Ms. Moynihan: You’re a good student.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, that’s right. You mentioned weaponization. Explain to me what you’re saying and this is part of your testimony too, back in 2014.
Ms. Moynihan: Only the Ganges originates just a few kilometers outside of control by the Chinese Communist Party at its headwaters. Thank God there’s one, but the rest of them—there’s four main rivers that come from Eastern Tibet: the Yellow, the “Machu” in Tibetan; the Yangtze, which is the “Drichu” or the Milk River while Machu means “Muddy River”; the Mekong, the “Zachu”, the Silver River; and the Salween.
Before these rivers were Chinese, Thai, or Indian rivers, they were all Tibetan rivers. They all have their own names, they all have mythology, and they all have folklore around them. Tibetans were very superstitious about eating fish and swimming. In my trips to Tibet, I could see the pristine waters of the High Plateau, how pure they are.
The Tibetan people, largely the nomadic peoples, were the stewards or the custodians of Asia’s water supply all these centuries, and they kept it pure. There’s many references in Asian folklore like, “as pure as a cup of Tibetan water.” You see that in Indian lore, Chinese lore, and Thai lore, and then many Buddhists refer to the purity of Tibet’s waters.
There was a prophecy from ancient Tibet. In the seventh to the ninth centuries, Tibet had a very large empire in Central Asia. They took large swaths of China at that time. There was a prophecy that if the Chinese armies ever did plunder and pillage Tibet, the snow mountains would turn black and the waters of Asia would turn red with blood. And that is what’s happening now, 71 years hence, since the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Because the snow mountains are melting and the glaciers are melting, you see what’s called blackface. In my trips to Ladakh—I went to Ladakh 11 years ago, and I could see almost half of the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. That’s where the conflict is happening right now, with the PLA invasion of India, because Ladakh is part of Indian territory now. I could see that half of the glaciers were blackface, the snow had melted off, and I had a tourist guide who said 10 years prior, they had been all white.
So it’s happening very, very rapidly. And that’s largely the industrialization of the PRC. The CO2 emissions are causing a very rapid melt of Tibet glaciers. They’re melting 70% faster than glaciers in other parts of the world. The world’s third largest ice mass after the North and the South Pole is the Tibetan Plateau.
The waters turning red with blood, well that’s happening with the pollution and the poisoning of Tibet’s rivers at their sources by mining, because mining takes a great deal of water. And Tibet and Xinjiang are very, very rich in minerals. Our world’s largest mineral deposits are found in what is now called western China, Tibetan Xinjiang. The Western treasure house it was called traditionally before the CCP’s occupation.
The waters are being polluted and the water is being diverted to China. There’s a very serious drought happening in Southeast Asia because of the weaponization of the Mekong. You lived in Thailand, and I also lived in Thailand. Four years ago, I moved to Thailand and spent two years there. When King Rama ninth died, every day in the Bangkok post, there was a story about the Mekong water levels going dangerously down, but they can’t [blame China]. It’s the same as in India up until this spring when China invaded India. They couldn’t blame China because they were petrified of what China could do.
But China has also built a lot of tunnels with a Canadian company, tunnels to divert water from the rivers into the thirsty mainland for industrialization and for population – [a] thirsty population.
Back to the weaponization question, the Brahmaputra, which is one of the most interesting of the rivers of Tibet, the five that come from Western Tibet from Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain which the CCP is now militarizing, which we can discuss further.
The Brahmaputra starts from Mount Kailash and then it goes down through Southern Tibet, all the way up around Pimlico and then plunges down this very steep, very steep gorge into India and Bangladesh. Well, there’s another Tibetan prophecy that it’s this gorge with a dam was ever built that would end the world. It would end the world that would have such catastrophic environmental effects. Well, they’re doing that now. They’re building a dam and a tunnel of water division right where the Brahmaputra curves around right there at Pinnacle. And the Indians are very concerned about this.
The Thais are very concerned about the smaller, weaker countries in the periphery, which are largely controlled by China, that would be Pakistan, that Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Vietnam less so, but Burma, surely. They’ve all taken Belt And Road projects. India has not. India’s the one great power that hasn’t. Well, they can’t really speak out and criticize the CCP, can they? You know, because they can shut your water supply off. It’s very, very, very serious, and it gets no reporting, no interest, and no coverage from Western media.
Mr. Jekielek: Maura, aside from talking about these damming projects and so forth, you talked about a broader issue, which is the militarization of the region. What does that mean exactly? You actually saw some of this first hand at one point. What does this mean exactly?
Ms. Moynihan: The Tibetan Plateau is the ideal launching pad for missiles, rockets, drones. It is the high ground of Asia. Ghengis Khan famously said that he who controls Tibet controls the world. When you’re in Tibet, you can see certainly it gives you dominion over the Asian landmass.
In my trips to Tibet, I would always fly in from Kathmandu. The first trip, I went overland, which was fascinating. It’s a one hour flight, but there’s no food service. The plane literally goes “chick, chick” and suddenly you are on the Tibetan plateau, and you feel like you’re on a different planet. I could also see in my trips to Tibet that the Tibetan people are really helpless against the brute force of the People’s Liberation Army.
Tibet is the most militarized place I’ve ever been. I’ve never seen so many military barracks, so many different kinds of policemen and soldiers. You step out of line for one minute and you pay the price. You can see the Tibetan people just had no choice but to keep their heads down. Tow the party line or you pay with death, torture, imprisonment or all three.
And when I went to Eastern Tibet 25 years ago this month, I just could see how the Phase 3 of the Chinese Communist occupation of Tibet was really being implemented. This is a theory that I came up with in graduate school when I was writing about the militarization of the Tibetan Plateau: the Chinese Communist occupation of Tibet has occurred in three phases. The first in the 1950s and 1960s was military occupation, subjugation of the indigenous population and putting in military barracks.
In the 1970s and 1980s, it was expanding military roads, transportation, and bringing in a civilian population with population transfer of Han citizens from southern China or western China into the Tibetan plateau and forced intermarriage. We’re reading about a lot of this now in Xinjiang, but it happened in Tibet first, because Tibet has always been the torture laboratory and the genocide laboratory for the People’s Republic of China.
Chen Quanguo, who is the Chief Minister of Xinjiang did such a great job culling the Tibetans after the uprising in 2008 in the year of the Beijing Olympics, expanding the concentration camp system and patriotic reeducation that he was transferred by Xi Jinping to Xinjiang in 2016. The landmass of Xinjiang is far less than Tibet.
Tibet was partitioned into about 11 different provinces. What they call Tibetan Autonomous Region is just a swath of Kham Province and its sub-province. Tibet was traditionally the Cholka Sum, “the three provinces”: Amdo where the Dalai Lama was born; Kham, Eastern Tibet; and Ü-Tsang, which is sort of Central Tibet. Then the tip of the northern part of Ü-Tsang is the Kailash region. Mount Kailash, the holy mountain holy to the Buddhists and to the Hindus, where the five rivers of Western Tibet come from.
The militarization of Tibet has now just taken a rather grotesque turn this summer, as the CCP announced that they are building a military base at Lake Manasarovar, which is the sacred lake that is just in front of Mount Kailash. This is incredibly insulting to the Hindus and the Buddhists, but they said they were going to do this for years, and so I wasn’t surprised when people called me up with the news story. They said that they were going to; now they have. And they’re also militarizing the Kailash Pilgrim Trail.
Another thing that happened this summer which got very little reporting was the annexation of five pieces of Tibetan cultural zones in Nepali territory, Nepali sovereign territory, have been taken and annexed to the People’s Republic of China. One slice of it in western Nepal was the Kailash Pilgrim Trail that went from India for centuries, for millennia. That’s now controlled by the CCP. So Hindu pilgrims will not be able to make the journey anymore.
The weaponization of the Tibetan Plateau—I also saw in my trips to Tibet, military barracks, enormous and stretching for miles. I had a friend who was working at the consulate in Chengdu that was closed the summer in retaliation for the closure of the PRC consulate in Houston. It was a consulate that was a very hard place to work.
I had many friends who were posted there, and in recent years, you’re under so much surveillance, you didn’t have freedom of movement. Our American diplomats couldn’t move around. CCP diplomats can move freely all over the United States, it seems they can do whatever they want. They can then go to Harvard, Princeton, Yale and drop a couple of million dollars and buy silence. But American diplomats were surveilled, they were harassed, they were threatened.
Before the 2008 Olympics, I had some friends who were posted in Chengdu who made trips to Tibet, kind of on their own. One of them went to a conference of some kind in Ü-Tsang and saw all of these drones. That was technology that was stolen from Raytheon and McDonnell Douglas, two of the biggest military contractors in the world – American military defense contractors. He went back and wrote a communique about this: “Good God, look what they’ve done in Tibet!”
And he was transferred quite swiftly out of his position at the Chengdu consulate. Because you don’t want to upset the CCP, you don’t want to talk about the weaponization and the militarization of the Tibetan Plateau, because it might make the other countries nervous.
Stealing American technology and using the high ground as the launching pad for your drones, for your missiles, for your rockets, you can reach the capitals of South and Southeast Asia in 20 minutes from the Tibetan Plateau. You can see how massive and how important it is. But people don’t know this. People don’t know this, because the CCP has effectively also weaponized the word “Tibet.” You are not to discuss it in front of them. And so the western policymakers, diplomats, and academics to their detriment have turned a blind eye to all of this, and it’s too late now.
Mr. Jekielek: How many dams are there across these rivers that come from inside Tibet?
Ms. Moynihan: It’s impossible to know for sure. I want to give credit to my friend of many years ago, Michael Buckley, who did pioneering research on this and has a website and wrote a book called, “Meltdown in Tibet.” I recommend very highly that all your viewers read Michael’s work and support his work. He estimated about 10 years ago, there were 95,000 dams. It’s probably way more than that now. But again, small, medium and large.
There are some dams that are small, and then there’s the Three Gorges Dam. That’s the world’s longest dam, but the world’s tallest dam is on the Mekong, where the Mekong descends from the Tibetan Plateau down towards the lush, tropical nations of Southeast Asia. That was built some time ago. And that is also responsible for the slow down of the water flows and disruption of aquatic life on the Mekong.
The principal source of protein for the peoples of Southeast Asia is fish. And I know in my trips to Cambodia 21 years ago—I went to Angkor Wat, I travelled around Cambodia, and I went to the Tonlé Sap, that large, large river where the Mekong ends. The fish flows there are down dramatically since the construction of this dam. And we just got a new map of about five or six hydro dams, just as the Mekong enters Laos.
This is also causing a terribly serious drought all over Southeast Asia. Again, once you’ve built these dams, it’s really difficult to unbuild them and to reverse the environmental damage caused by these dams. So really, it’s too late now, I would think that the number of dams that they have in Tibet probably is at 200,000 or more, 250,000 by now. Then their plans for dam building shows their plans for hydro dams well into the 21st century. It looks like all of China and Tibet is just nothing but one great big dam. So they’re well on their way to that goal.
Mr. Jekielek: And are there examples of them actually exercising this dam diplomacy, I guess you would call it?
Ms. Moynihan: Well, they use it as a threat! Because China, People’s Republic of China, the CCP, controls the water tower of Asia. And Asia is the world’s largest continent. Tibet is the source of fresh water largely through rivers. Those aquifers or aquifer levels are going way, way down because of overpopulation and over-industrialization. So they have a grip on the water tower of Asia. They can turn off the switch anytime they want.
And my friends in the Indian government certainly know that. My friend, Ambassador Rajat Gupta, worked very hard to have a conference in New Delhi in 2011 or 2012, a couple of conferences, and got permission from the Indian government to bring four Chinese scientists. Rajat told me it was very depressing because even the Chinese scientists said the outlook is very grim.
The environmental outlook is very grim because of the hydrodam construction of all the great rivers. There’s going to be terrible water shortages, which means there’ll be food shortages, which means there’ll be famine. But the CCP has not ever shared its plans with the downstream nations.
It is very important to acknowledge that they are signatories to the Mekong River Commission. It’s a toothless commission. It just puts out reports once in a while and pays for a few bureaucrats to go here and there, but it doesn’t really do anything. And they’re a signatory to it, but they don’t abide by the putative laws and rules that will share information.
Certainly they haven’t shared any information with the Indian government about what they’re doing with the Indus and the Brahmaputra. And thank God the Ganges is not controlled at its headwaters by the CCP. And Pakistan has been a client state of the PRC for a very, very long time. So Pakistan won’t say anything about the dams on the Indus and the Chenab. Pakistan won’t say anything about the genocide of the Uyghurs, the Muslim majority population in Xinjiang, and it is the Muslim majority country.
The Indian government is also very concerned about the weaponization of water on the high plateau of Tibet. Since the invasion of Ladakh, where I went 11 years ago, which is Indian Territory, the Indian public has really turned against the CCP and this whole idea of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai, Indian-Chinese cooperation. That’s out the door, and the Indian media is now finally really reporting about Tibet which didn’t for years, didn’t touch Tibet, because they have the high ground in Asia.
An Indian retired Indian general once said to me at a cocktail party in New Delhi when we were talking about Tibet, “Well, what are we going to do? They’re there, and we’re here looking up, and their guns are pointed down at us. And they also have our water. What are we going to do?”
Mr. Jekielek: Maura, when we were talking offline, you mentioned to me an anecdote with Thai senator friend of yours, who had gone to China and was basically shown the damning projects at a certain time. Can you tell me more?
Ms. Moynihan: Yes, my friend, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, very sadly passed away this summer, was a senator in the Democratic Party, and his father had been Prime Minister of Thailand prior to that, and he is a noted environmentalist. He was about 10 years ago, taken on an official delegation to Eastern Tibet to the Mekong.
The Chinese delegation showed these huge hydro dams that they had built very proudly. And he said, “Do you realize what you’ve done? Why didn’t you tell us? You’re going to kill all of us in Southeast Asia. You’re stealing our water.” And one member of the Chinese delegation actually looked shocked, as Kraisak related it to me, and said, “Oh, we didn’t think about that. We were just following orders from Beijing.”
He was promptly removed from the meetings in the discussions. I was having dinner with Kraisak in Bangkok very shortly after this trip, and he was telling me the details, and he said it horrified him. He said that they were proud of it and they never gave one moment’s thought to the consequences for the nations downstream and the populations downstream. Again, it’s too late, the dams have already been built.
Mr. Jekielek: So Maura, how is it that this has largely gone unreported? Even among people who seem to know a little bit about China and the region.
Ms. Moynihan: You know, that’s an excellent question, Jan. A lot of people need to be held to account for refusing to report on it, refusing to cover it, basically doing the CCP’s bidding by removing any and all discussion of Tibet and what the CCP is doing to Tibet’s resources.
And my father, Senator Moynihan, pointed this out in the 1990s when I was doing a lot of reporting about Tibet. I was published in The Washington Post at that time very often on the op-ed page. Chinese delegations always demonize the Dalai Lama. And anytime you bring up any discussion of what they’re doing with Tibet’s resources, with water, with land, with the minerals, with the militarization of the Tibetan Plateau, they become hysterical. They pound the table, and they call the Dalai Lama a counterrevolutionary splitist.
I have friends who work for other senators who were on delegations and codels that went to China. You bring up Tibet and immediately there’s just a change in the body language and the tone of voice, everything. And so we see grown men acting that hysterical. You just move on to the other subject.
My dad said, you know, they have this strange obsession with the Dalai Lama. They have this peculiar obsession with him, and it’s worked extremely well deflecting any and all discussion of Tibet onto him. The poor Dalai Lama who just turned 85 this summer who lived in exile in India for 61 years – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a gentle Buddhist monk. They demonize him, and it confuses people, but what it does successfully for the CCP’s goals is it takes everyone’s attention away from the mines, dams, and war games in occupied Tibet.
Narration: Though Moynihan has written prolifically about Tibet under communist control. That narrative is largely muted in Western media today. At her home, she explains to me how this happened.
Ms. Moynihan: Much to my disappointment because in the 1980s and 1990s and into the 2000s, I was published frequently in the Washington Post. These are all from there: “In occupied Tibet,” “What China fears,” “What about Tibet?” Also the Washington Times used to publish me very often. But sometime in the 2000s, that all stopped, seemingly overnight. There was a change in upper management at the Washington Post and in the editorial staff, and all of my articles were rejected, every single one.
I kept trying for a long time and then I just gave up. It got to the point where the only two publications in the world that would publish my work were the Asian Age out of Delhi with thanks to Kaushik Mitter, my wonderful editor of 20 years, and the Epoch Times. And Stephen Gregory thankfully is an excellent editor at Epoch Times. He published a lot of my Tibet work, this is from 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Those are the only two places that will allow a person to express their opinions and to give factual information about what the CCP is doing to the resources and the people of Tibet. And it’s very sad. There’s seemingly a whole news blackout about Tibet in the last decade. You know, you never hear about Tibet anymore. Tibet disappeared from the news.
There are no Tibet programs anymore at universities, and just try to organize a Tibet conference at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Columbia. You will be shut down so fast. We tried to have a little one last fall at Columbia in November, and it was shut down two hours before it was supposed to begin under orders from the Chinese Consulate. That’s what we were told, “The Chinese Consulate doesn’t want you to have this.”
All of our larger institutions in media and higher education, certainly high finance, are all working hand in glove with the CCP. The Tibet question, the Tibet issue is the best lens through which to view the collaboration between the CCP and the West. I say to people, “Give me five minutes to find out if your business partner is working for the CCP.” All you have to do is ask him if he thinks Tibet should be free. Usually I can tell in one minute. But it’s very sad, and the West has done this collaboration in this sellout of Tibet at their own peril.
Because now you’re seeing a lot of headlines that say, “Is Hong Kong going to be the next Tibet?” And seemingly overnight in Hong Kong since the new security law was passed, it has become very much like Tibet in that they have excised any mention of the Tiananmen Square Massacre from textbooks and any mention of Tibet and Xinjiang. It has criminalized certain songs. It has criminalized humor. The very famous long running comedy show that used to mock the CCP was cancelled overnight. And people are afraid to talk; people are afraid about sending emails. I’m not going to email my friends in Hong Kong because I don’t want them to get in trouble. So yes, it’s on the road to being another Tibet.
Narration: “Tibet has been a test case for the Chinese regime’s crimes against humanity,” Moynihan says, and it is a place filled with trauma.
Ms. Moynihan: I did a lot of research at this reception center, getting news and information, doing interviews with people who just came from Tibet. A great many Tibetans in Tibet sent their children to India to be educated at the Dalai Lama’s refugee schools because they believe they would have a Tibetan education, and they would also learn English, and they would learn Tibetan, because now Tibetan is not taught in any schools in Chinese-occupied Tibet.
But a lot of these children experienced tremendous trauma when they made it into Kathmandu because it’s a harrowing, harrowing journey and many get caught by PLA soldiers. Heaven help you if you’re caught trying to escape. You will be tortured, you will be arrested, and you’ll likely be killed. Many are just shot in firing squads.
He was very traumatized, this young boy. And at the reception center, we not only had to give people food, they’re very malnourished and extremely dehydrated, getting across the Nangpa La pass, but many of them had very extreme frostbite, and there was emotional trauma. See how many people were coming in those days, mostly from Kham province.
In recent years, people have been able to get out mostly from Amdo provinces, the northern province, now it’s called Qinghai province, where the Dalai Lama was born. And where the PLA has its nuclear academy, the ninth academy, their own Los Alamos, because the world’s largest uranium deposits are found in Tibet, especially in northern Tibet.
And this is a monk. There are a great many monks and nuns, Buddhist monks and nuns who were fleeing Tibet because of religious persecution and patriotic reeducation. “We have to read the little red book all day.” And now it’s more Xi Jinping thought, rather than Mao. But it’s the same kind of turgid Marxist poison.
In the escape from Tibet, many, many of, especially the children, the refugees have very serious frostbite. So when they get to Kathmandu, we would also raise funds to pay for amputations in Nepali hospitals, me and Sareklamo [spelling uncertain], the lady who ran the reception center. This is a young boy who had to have his entire foot amputated, and she had lost some toes as well.
Mr. Jekielek: So Maura, you mentioned that human rights were very much off the table for a long time. But recently, we’ve done a few interviews, and it seems like they’re getting on the table, especially with these sanctions against different people and entities in Xinjiang, including one of the largest employers, paramilitary employer, in Xinjiang and so forth. What do you make of this? What are the implications of that for Tibet?
Ms. Moynihan: Well, I almost fainted when I read this summer that Secretary Pompeo had put Chen Quanguo on a sanctions list. We call him the “Butcher of Tibet.” He was sent by the CCP after the 2008 uprising in Tibet which was not very extreme. No one was killed, but it happened on March 14, 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics, and the Tibetan people paid a fearful price for that uprising. He’s known in CCP circles for successfully subjugating Tibet. He quelled any restive Tibetan nationalism uprising, and that’s another reason you don’t hear anything about Tibet anymore.
And then he was kicked upstairs, so to speak in Xinjiang in 2016, to do what he did in Tibet, to the Turkish people in Xinjiang province. So when I saw that he had been put on the sanctions list, I thought, “My goodness, this is progress. Something is happening.” There’s acknowledgement now from Secretary Pompeo, on his team, that we should sanction these people, we shouldn’t let them have visas. We shouldn’t let them fly into New York on UN weekend and shop and talk to their moles and their spies and do whatever they want.
We’ve sanctioned members of the Khmer Rouge and other genocidal dictatorships around the world, but the Chinese dictators always seem to get an easy pass. And so I thought that was good, I hope—the problem is, I don’t know if it’s too late for Tibet. I don’t know if it’s too late.
Because Tibet is closed off to the world. You journalists are not allowed to go there. There’s no diplomats there. If you’re a tourist, you’re watched all the time. I was followed every day that I was there. I was held in custody for a day when I was in Kham. They let us go, but there’s no freedom of movement, and you can’t really report on it. They certainly don’t want anybody reporting on the mines, dams, and war games on the Tibetan Plateau. But I congratulate Secretary Pompeo and his team for at least putting the Tibet issue back on the map.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final words before we finish up?
Ms. Moynihan: One question I’m always asked is “Isn’t Tibet a lost cause? Isn’t it too late? Why are you wasting your time? It’s a done deal. It’s very nice that you care so much.” I mean, it’s very condescending, actually, a lot of the attitudes I’ve received from people. Think tanks, human rights organizations, none of them will work with me because I’ve been labeled a Tibet person and their board members have interests in China.
And I’m very disappointed with a lot of journalists who wouldn’t print my articles—only the Epoch Times and the Asian Age would print—because it’s one of the biggest most important stories in the world, the weaponization and theft of Tibet water and the militarization of the Tibetan Plateau. It has tremendously serious consequences.
If there is in the future going to be a war in Asia, the People’s Liberation Army, People’s Republic of China has the strategic advantage – the high ground of Tibet. And so I often asked myself this question too. And I must say that after getting so much rejection from my work on the dams, I felt very, very discouraged, and I also wondered if it was a lost cause.
And it was 2013, I was in Kathmandu, I was leaving the next day to fly to Bangkok. And I was on the roof of my hotel, the Hotel Tibet, from the roof of which you can see the Tibetan Plateau from Kathmandu Valley. And it hit me that nobody was going to care and no one was going to listen to us Tibet people until sometime in the future when the CCP would create a catastrophic global event. Then, and only then everyone would turn to us and say, “Good God, tell us what you know.”
Well, that’s happened this year with the CCP virus. So my prediction has come true. They have created a catastrophic global event. And it’s true that more and more people are calling me and saying, “Maura, you were talking about China for years. We didn’t want to, you’re talking about the CCP and about Tibet, and we just didn’t take it seriously. And now I’m sorry, I didn’t listen more. And I’m sorry, we didn’t pay more attention.”
The Dalai Lama always says, “Never give up.” And the last time I had a private audience with His Holiness Dalai Lama in Dharamshala in 2009—it was just before Obama had received the Nobel Peace Prize and then decided to snub the Dalai Lama and not meet him, which was the fatal blow for the Tibet movement. It hurt the movement irreparably because it sent a message around the world to world leaders, throwing the Dalai Lama and the Tibet movement under the bus.
That was 2009. It’s been over a decade now of dead silence on Tibet and no action on Tibet, in fact, reverse action on Tibet. I warned him, I said that the CCP is going to use the financial crisis of 2008 to sell us out. And he hung his head, and he said, “Yes, money is going to overrule moral principle”. And I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that’s true. We have to gird ourselves for what’s coming up.”
But as I was leaving the audience, he pulled me aside, and he said, “Maura, my Tibetan doctor tells me that I’m going to outlive the CCP.” I clutched his hand, and I said, “Oh, Your Holiness, that’s wonderful news.” I’ll never forget that!
Mr. Jekielek: Well, that’s a wonderful place to end. Maura Moynihan, such a pleasure to have you again.
Ms. Moynihan: Oh, thank you, Jan. Thank you for giving me a chance to share with you and your audience this very important story that is the most underreported story in the world. I really appreciate it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.