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    China's Laws and Renzonghai Lake Dam-ned

    Chinese tourists and environmentalists alike have expressed outrage over the illegal construction of Renzonghai dam project. The Tianwan River Hydropower Development Co. (TRHDC), a power construction company owned by Sichuan Investment Group, is covertly undertaking the construction of roads and bridges, and the clearing of old growth trees near Renzonghai, a sacred lake in the scenic Gangkar (Chinese: Gongga) mountain area in Dartsedo (Chinese: Kangding) county of Sichuan Province.

    TRHDC was involved in illegal preparatory construction work at the site as early as June 2003. This included building roads, cutting trees along the road, and piling dirt and rocks on the lake shore. On July 8, 2003, the Sichuan Environmental Protection Bureau demanded a halt to the project as TRHDC had started construction without the proper permits from either the Bureau or the Department of Construction, but to no avail.

    Soon afterwards, China Central Television did a story about the Renzonghai lake dam which attracted the attention of Sichuan Province's Party Secretary, Mr. Zhang Xue-zhong, as well as the Governer, Mr. Zhang Zhong-wei. The provincial leaders ordered the Sichuan Forestry Office and Construction Office to conduct investigations, which led to a temporary halt in construction, but the project soon started up again.

    This illegal construction seriously compromises the government's efforts to protect the integrity of the area's biodiversity-rich, sacred mountain ecosystem, named the "Gongga Mountain National Scenery and Natural Conservation Area." Renzonghai project plans involve construction of power-storage-pumping-plants at Renzonghai Lake and Bawanghai Lake, connected by a water diversion tunnel. If the illegal construction is allowed to continue, a hydro-power project will be functional in the next three years that will cause serious, long-term harm to the surrounding environment.

    Environmentalists rightly fear that this might create a hydro-power development trend in the Gongga Moutain National Scenery and Natural Conservation Area as other water construction companies such as Huaneng International (for Yeti Lake dam project: see next article) vie to harness the area's abundant water resources. Currently, the area's freshwater resources support more than 1,000 species of rare tropical plants. The area has 2,000 varieties of fauna, is rich in old growth evergreen, broadleaf, and bamboo forest. It also has a sizable population of endangered and endemic animals such as wapiti, wildebeest, black bear and panda. Irresponsible construction of hydro-power dams put all of these species at risk.

    The implications for the local people, mainly of Tibetan, Yi and Han ethnicities, are also likely to be unfavorable. Not surprisingly, 39 out of 40 local Tibetans opposed the project in response to a survey conducted last year. Economically, their traditional forms of livelihood -- farming, pastoralism and gathering medicinal herbs -- would be disrupted by the project's logging of old growth forests and the flooding of pastoral lands. Those that depend on the bourgeoning tourism economy are also unhappy with the project as the area's most important tourist attraction is its pristine natural beauty.

    Reports also indicate that at least two Tibetan villages -- Zimei and Weishida villages in Liuba Xiang - will be flooded and submerged under the new reservoir. As disturbing as it is, the future of these colorful people's traditional lifestyle is in the hands of corrupt officials, to whom they are worth less than a bag of cement.

    Concerned readers are encouraged to urge the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (address: Wen Jiabao, Premier of the State Council, General Office of the State Council, 2 Fuyou Street, Beijing, China 100017) to stop the corrupt local officials and the TRHDC from further misrepresenting the Chinese Communist Party and to follow through with the Party’s commitments to protect China’s "ethnic minorities" and the environment.

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