BEIJING — China's Cabinet defended the showcase Three Gorges dam Tuesday, saying the huge reservoir behind the world's largest hydropower project isn't triggering earth tremors or landslides.
In a glowing report responding to a tide of negative foreign press coverage, officials said that the Three Gorges project has opened China's interior to greater trade, provided the nation with a bountiful source of clean fuel and tamed the flood-prone Yangtze River.
"We are going to be able to weather the worst flooding of every 1,000 years," said Wang Xiaofeng, the deputy director of the Cabinet-level office in charge of the dam.
At a nationally televised news conference, an engineer lashed out at foreign media and drew seemingly spontaneous applause from Chinese journalists.
"I want to speak to you from the bottom of my heart," began Pan Jiazheng, a hydrologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Accusing foreign reporters of holding "a deep prejudice against China" and trying "to make issues out of nothing," he read from foreign newspaper headlines that referred to "The Demon on the Yangtze River" and warned that "The Three Gorges project has become a time bomb of global warming."
"Please don't demonize what is happening in China," Pan said.
The ruling Communist Party has backed the giant Three Gorges project for two decades, saying that while it inconveniences 1.3 million residents of some 100 cities and towns who were forced to relocate along the Yangtze, it's benefiting vast downstream regions with flood control and abundant electricity.
The Wall Street Journal reported in late August that the dam has triggered landslides and worsened water pollution and silting in the reaches above the dam. An Oct. 12 McClatchy report also focused on landslides along the 410-mile reservoir behind the dam. Since then, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Economist and other publications have carried critical articles.
Towering 600 feet above the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges dam contains 19 turbines pumping out electricity for much of southern and western China.
The dam's main span was finished in May 2006, and water levels have climbed 300 feet in the huge reservoir rising behind the dam since then, putting stress on slopes.
Li Yong'an, the general manager of the Three Gorges Project Development Corp., said landslides along the Yangtze's steep slopes occurred frequently before the dam was built, including about 40 during the 1980s.
"There has been no major geological disasters because of the rise of the water levels," Li said.
Last week, a landslide at the mouth of a tunnel crushed a bus in Badong County, near a tributary to the dam, killing 31 people. Other landslides in the past year have careened down the slopes of the gorge and killed more than a dozen people.
Some villagers have been told to move to avoid landslides.
Confusion still surrounds an announcement by Chongqing, a huge industrial hub on the Yangtze, that it plans to relocate 4 million people. At first, it blamed the pending relocations on environmental problems along the waterway, then clarified that they were due to an urbanization drive unrelated to the river.
"This is totally different and irrelevant to the Three Gorges project," Wang said.
Wang also downplayed a Nov. 13 report by the state Xinhua news agency that said that the amount of sewage dumped into the Yangtze River rose 3 percent, or 900 million tons, last year. He said that the reservoir's waters remain "drinkable."
To read the Oct. 12 McClatchy Newspapers story on the landslides, go to www.mcclatchydc.com/staff/tim_johnson/story/20433.html