China's tourism plan quells Brahmaputra dam fears
By Ananth Krishnan
June 24, 2012
Chinese plans to build a major tourism project and national park in a
Tibetan county have dealt a blow to hydropower lobby groups who have
proposed the construction of massive dam on the Brahmaputra's ï¿½Great
Bend', where the river begins its course towards India.
The Chinese government announced on Saturday it had earmarked 400
million yuan ($63.5 million) to develop tourism in Nyingchi prefecture
in south-eastern Tibet. The plans include an ambitious proposal to raise
two billion yuan ($317.5 million) to build an "international tourism
town" in the border prefecture.
The "golden tourism" project in Nyingchi follows the opening of Tibet's
first national park in the same county in December in the Grand Canyon
of the Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet.
The plans appear to signal the government's moves to develop the region
as a tourism hub, amid rising pressure from hydropower groups to tap the
enormous potential of the canyon and the ï¿½Great Bend', where the river
spectacularly falls over 1,000 metres.
A number of hydropower lobby groups have called on the central
government to give the green light for as many as 28 proposed dams on
the Yarlung Zangbo. China has, so far, only embarked on one hydropower
project, a run-of-the-river dam at Zangmu on the river's middle reaches
which officials say will not impact downstream flows.
Of particular concern to Indian officials was a proposal by Sinohydro,
an influential state-owned hydropower company, to build a massive
38-gigawatt project at Motuo near the ï¿½Great Bend', a dam that would
surpass even the Three Gorges project in scale. Environmental groups
have raised concerns about the plan's impact on both the sensitive
ecosystem of the region and on downstream flows.
Wang Songping, deputy chief of Tibet's regional tourism bureau, was
quoted as saying by state media that the national park at the Yarlung
Zangbo Grand Canyon would be run by a committee "responsible for
environmental protection", and would "follow an internationally-accepted
practice in its management of tourism resources and minimise harm to the
plateau ecology." The park stretches across several counties in Nyingchi
and Qamdo prefectures.
The plan for the park has disappointed hydropower groups pushing for the
projects. Zhang Boting, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Society
of Hydropower Engineers, told The Hindu in an interview last year that a
dam on the ï¿½Great Bend' could save up to 100 million tonnes of coal. But
he did acknowledge there were technical barriers to putting in
equipment, with the river falling by over 1,000 metres over steep gorges.
India and China will this month discuss the issue of trans-border rivers
in a working group meeting. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh during talks last week on the sidelines of the
Rio+20 summit that China was willing to strengthen communication with
India on the issue, and would share hydrological data.
Chinese officials have in talks sought to address Indian concerns over
long-discussed proposals to divert the Brahmaputra's waters, under the
western route of the massive south-to-north water diversion project.
Work on the central and middle routes, which divert water from the
Yangtse river to the arid north, is already in progress.
Chinese officials said on June 19, during a working conference on the
project, that "construction of the final west route, which is hampered
by difficulties of crossing the 3,000-5,000 metre-high Qinghai-Tibet
Plateau, is not yet scheduled to begin."
The Nyingchi tourism project, officials said, also will include 22
"model villages" built over three years at the cost of 100 million yuan
($15.8 million), where residents will provide family hotel services for
tourists. Indian officials rejected media reports which claimed the
tourism project in the border prefecture would have bearing on the
long-running boundary talks, pointing out that the relevant region was
not part of the dispute and was a region where India did not hold any
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