Wednesday, June 29, 2011

China’s water war with India

My article China’s water war with India was published in the Sunday Magazine of The Pioneer. Click on the title to read.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Investing in railway

The argument that these new railways lines will be "a strategic investment that will link markets across the country", is true, but there is more.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, not only it will open new markets, but in many places, (particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang), it will facilitate the transfer of  millions of Han migrants in these 'minorities' areas. 
It will also help the 'freight', in other words to take minerals from these areas back to the mainland and finally and perhaps more importantly, it will allow quick transpiration of troops in case of 'ethnic' or 'external' conflicts.
Taking all these factors into account, the investment may not be wasted. 

China's railway boom hurtles into the red
By Michael Martina and Xin Zhou
BEIJING (Reuters) - The numbers for China's relentless push for a high-speed rail network are impressive -- in terms of debt, not passengers.
The argument in support of the vast project -- with many lines connecting to more sparsely populated inland regions -- is that they are a strategic investment that will link markets across the country.
Detractors counter that while high-speed rail may suit the densely populated eastern corridor, investment is wasted on inland projects which are better served, and more cheaply, by short flights and slow trains.
"It will be a liability, not an asset, for China," complained Zhao Jian, a professor with Beijing Jiaotong University, a vocal opponent of the ambitious plans.
The Ministry of Railways, already deep in debt, is undeterred and expects to splurge another 2.8 trillion yuan between now and 2015 on the project.
State backing for the 45,000 km (27,962 miles) of high-speed track the ministry has pledged to lay by the end of 2015 means it can almost certainly find the money.
But outsiders, too, are weighing into the debate.
U.S. economist Nouriel Roubini spoke to reporters earlier this month in Singapore of his trip on the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed train, which connects the cities in 40 minutes.
" is half-empty and the brand new station is three-quarters empty. Parallel to that train line, there is also a new highway that looked three-quarters empty. Next to the train station is also the new local airport of Shanghai and you can fly to Hangzhou," Roubini said.
"There is a no rationale for a country at that economic level to have not just duplication but triplication of those infrastructure projects. The level of it and the cost of it is massive, and a third of it will generate zero cash," he said.
Even the landmark Beijing-Shanghai line, set to launch by the end of the month, faces uncertain profit prospects and many analysts are saying the investment in rail is too much too soon.
At a cost of 220.9 billion yuan, the 1,318-km line linking the capital and financial hub will cost one-way economy class passengers 555 yuan to start, just under the cheapest discounted air ticket.
Speeding passengers through the countryside at 300 kph, the new line will serve as the government's new model for passenger transport.
Professor Zhao cited the line from eastern Henan province's capital Zhengzhou to the Shaanxi city of Xi'an as the perfect example of a white elephant rail project.
"It is basically empty," he said. In the first six months after its launch in February 2010, the railway reported 1.98 million passengers. It was designed for 37 million a year.

"We will not slow down the pace, and there will be no cut in investments," Vice Minister of Railways Hu Yadong told a news conference last week.
The ministry's 58.24 percent asset-liability ratio -- as of March -- is no deterrent, with rail development closely linked to national development in the world's most populous country and second biggest economy.
Wang Fang, a senior project officer who focuses on China's railways at the Asian Development Bank office in Beijing, said the MOR should not worry about its debt ratio.
"A debt ratio of 60 percent itself is not worrisome. Many expressways in China have a debt ratio of 70 percent of more. What should be worrying is profitability performance," she said.
JP Morgan rail sector analyst Karen Li said a 4-7 year post-construction profitability target hinted at by MOR's chief economist Yu Bangli was not unrealistic for the line connecting Beijing and Shanghai.
But other lines may be less lucky.
"Typically for infrastructure, healthy building should outpace demand by two to three years. For high-speed rail, at this point, we may be looking at 5 to 10 years ahead of demand, in my view," Li told Reuters from Hong Kong.
"I think much of the railway investment in the past three to five years should have been put into the freight rail side," she said, helping to lower logistics costs which are much higher than in developed countries.

Some experts say the high-speed lines will have wider knock-on benefits for the freight sector and the economy.
New high-speed rails, in theory, will take passenger traffic off old tracks and open them up to freight. With per capita kilometres of rail low compared to developed countries, advocates say if it is going to build a new rail network anyway, China might as well build one that is first class.
Wang Shuang, an analyst with the Industrial Securities in Shanghai, estimates MOR operating losses in 2011 of 96.6 billion yuan, but said rail spending would still boost the economy.
"In terms of a whole region, railways will promote investment along the line in a noticeable way," Wang said, noting that every dollar spent on railway could generate three dollars in investment.
Even before the official launch of the Beijing-Shanghai line, Yu Shouhai, an investment promotion official at Taian, one of the 24 stations along the line, sees great promise. Projects, including a tourist spot called "Tropical Gardens", were launched ahead of an anticipated wave of visitors.
"The new railway line has tremendous meaning for us," Yu said. "Since the announcement of the railway blueprint, investors have been speeding up in putting money down here."
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Looking at the wrong place with the wrong lens

Sometimes news found in the main Indian press can be flabbergasting. Take the case of the purported ‘diversion’ of the Yarlung Tsangpo.
A serious national newspaper spoke of the “Yarlang Tsangpo, it is what the Brahmaputra River is called in Mandarin”. The Yarlung (and not Yarlang) Tsangpo is the Tibetan name for the river originating near Mt Kailash, it has nothing to do with Mandarin. A mere detail!
The article further says that the Ministry of Water Resources has asked the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) for a report on the Chinese building activities near the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo, as it enters into Indian territory: “Sources do not rule out the possibility that the ‘new’ images could be of existing structures, since the resolution of India's satellite images has increased substantially in recent months. The resolution has gone up from 181m to 10cm. This means structures, which have been there, are now visible in much greater detail.”
Great news, but the NRSC scientists are wasting their time looking for structures near the Grand Bend of the Brahmaputra: the diversion is planned a few hundred kilometers upstream, near the city of Tsetang.
Had the Ministry done its homework before sending a request to NRSC?
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna is also not a good pupil: he mixes the ‘diversion scheme’ with the dams being built on the Brahmaputra, when, answering a question on the diversion, he affirms that Zangmu Dam “is no cause of concern to India as it is a ‘run off the river’ dam”.
In fact, Beijing is planning a string of 6 dams in this area in Lengda, Zhongda, Langzhen, Jiexu, Jiacha and Zangmu.
No need to mention here the utopian dream of a 38 Gws power station (nearly twice the size of the Three Gorges Dam) in the Great Bend, near the Indian border; there are too many geological and technical issues involved to be taken seriously in the decades to come.
The smaller dams (about 500Mws each) are not directly linked with the diversion scheme which is proposed to be built a few hundred kilometers upstream. It would make no technical sense to have such a project at a relatively lower altitude near the Great Bend, when the waters can be pushed up towards the north from a much higher altitude, near Tsetang in Central Tibet.
Headlines Today mentioned a top secret report prepared by the Cabinet Secretariat in Delhi on June 13 which would state: “Beijing is not responding to India's concerns on the Brahmaputra dam. There is an urgent need to take up this issue with China as these dams will 'severely impact' the flow of water into India."
According to the same source, SM Krishna would have assured Assam CM Tarun Gogoi that “ISRO satellite maps showed no construction”.
No construction where?
On November 15, 2010, The People’s Daily had announced: “The Brahmaputra River, which has long been praised as a ‘heavenly river’, was dammed for the first time on November 12 …the Zangmu Hydropower Station, the first large hydropower station in Tibet, will soon begin its main construction.” In fact, the construction had been started several months earlier.

But let us go back to the source of the ‘diversion’ story.
A couple of weeks ago, Prof. Wang Guangqian, a senior scientist at Chinese Academy of Sciences Engineering was quoted as saying: “Chinese experts have raised a new proposal to divert water from the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra River to the country’s northwestern province of Xinjiang”.
Prof Wang’s project is a variant of a scheme prepared some 10 years ago by two Chinese engineers: Gao Kai, a retired PLA General, considered by many as the father of the mega scheme and his colleague Li Ling who wrote a book Tibet's water will Save China. The project was then called the Shuomatan Canal (from Suma Tan in Central Tibet to Tanjing in China).
Interestingly, Wang Guangqian seems to have the backing of Li Ruihuan, a former member of the Standing Committee of the CCP's Politburo and former Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Many in the PLA as well as the mega dam companies are said to be supporting the project.
Wang Guangqian spoke about the proposed route: “Brahmaputra waters are expected to be rerouted to Xinjiang along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the Hexi Corridor – part of the Northern Silk Road located in Gansu Province”.
Wang admitted: “We thought this would be a plan 50 years later,” adding that presently Chinese experts and governmental officials are still studying the possible impacts (technical and political) of the proposal.
The Chinese engineers are clearly conducting a ‘feasibility study’, no construction has started.
But the project, planned to be undertaken in 50 years time, might now start much earlier: “Faced with severe challenges brought by reduced water resources and a severe drought that has affected a large portion of the country, China has started to consider diverting water from the Brahmaputra River.”
One can reasonably think that it would begin in 10 years at the earliest, keeping in mind that it is a political decision which could only be taken at the highest level of the Chinese State by President Hu Jintao’s successors.

The issue
An article by Zhang Ke on the website provided more information. Wang Guangqian admitted that his proposal, also called the Major Western Route, has been inspired by the work of Guo Kai.
The hard fact: fast developing China has less and less water and Beijing has to locate possible sources of water to survive. Scientists are looking in the only two possible directions: the sea (the Bobai Sea) or the mountains (the Tibetan plateau).
Wang quoted a survey by the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Figures from the Chinese Academy of Sciences showing that “rivers on the Qinghai-Tibet and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, including the Yarlung Tsangpo, Salween and Mekong, carry between 637 billion cubic metres and 810 billion cubic metres of water out of China each year”.
What disturbs some Chinese engineers is that most of these rivers flow down to India and South-East Asia, becoming the Brahmaputra, Salween and Mekong; in other words, the waters are ‘wasted’ for China.
The diversion project envisaged by Wang (and Gao Kai) could move some 200 billion cubic metres of water a year up to Northwestern China – the equivalent of four Yellow Rivers.
According to Li Ling, the Institute of Advanced Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is using supercomputers and data modeling to simulate the project and evaluate its feasibility. Wang Guangqian himself works with the South-North Water Transfer office to prepare a ‘scientific’ report.
In 2006, the Chinese government pretended that 'a few mad men' were thinking of this pharaonic project, but if these few 'mad men' (supported by a former Politburo's Standing Committee member) are able to use the super computers of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for their calculations, they may not be as mad as painted by the Government.
Three important factors have to be understood.

One, China’s hydropower lobbies have a financial interest in ‘concretizing’ the project as soon as possible. Last week, an article in The Financial Times affirmed: “China’s Three Gorges Project Corporation has proposed a $15bn hydropower scheme to Pakistan to dam the Indus river valley at several points, in a project aimed at controlling floods and tackling electricity shortages.” Dams, whether in Pakistan or Tibet, mean big business and the large Chinese corporations will continue to lobby hard to get these projects through.

The second crucial factor is the cost-benefit perspective. The Chinese leadership is down-to-earth, rational. A friend who worked on the issue told me: “If the price of transferring water is cheaper than conservation or getting water from the sea, China will go ahead.” Why divert the Brahmaputra and risk a conflict with India, if there is a possibility to avoid it?

Three, China badly needs water and can’t import it.
The diversion of the Brahmaputra is in competition with another diversion: to take water from the Bohai Sea, the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea on the coast of Northeastern China and push it up to Xinxiang.

The rationale remains, China needs to:
  1. To stop the desertification in Xinjiang, Gansu and Inner Mongolia
  2. To help a dry and polluted Yellow River flow again
  3. To feed its people, for which large amounts of water are required for agriculture
If such grandiose and seemingly unrealizable projects are even thought of, it is because the situation is quite desperate and nobody is able to foresee any ‘realizable’ solution.
So far, China has refused to collaborate with downstream States. When in May 1997, when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, China was one of 3 countries voting against. The rather mild Convention "aimed at guiding States in negotiating agreements on specific watercourses”.
In the long run, whether it will be by adopting such a Convention or by signing a bilateral treaty like the Indus Waters Treaty (1960) between India and Pakistan, Beijing has no choice but to collaborate with its downstream neighbours on a crucial issue like water on which the future of Asia depends. The current ‘imperialist’ attitude does not tally with the status of ‘responsible power’ which China is striving for.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

American values and freedom of information

The Chinese media (and probably the Chinese government) believe that a free press' only objective is "to have American values infiltrate other countries".
I am usually not a defender of American values, but Voice of America or Radio Free Asia are doing an extraordinary work of information in several totalitarian environments.
Watch this video-message of Aung San Suu Kyi on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Radio Free Asia.
Serious events are happening in Tibet, has Xinhua reported them? 
Here is the information received through Radio Free Asia for 3 recent incidents which occurred in Tibet.

Kirti Monastery:
Tibetan monks at a restive monastery in southwestern China’s Sichuan province refused to take part in a religious rite on Wednesday, claiming that Chinese authorities were staging the event for purposes of “propaganda,” Tibetan sources living in India said.
The ceremony, which is normally held twice a month at the Kirti monastery chapel dedicated to “protector deities,” had been postponed since March 16, when a Kirti monk set himself on fire in a protest against Chinese rule in Sichuan’s Tibetan-majority Ngaba (in Chinese Aba) prefecture.
The monk’s protest sparked a crackdown by Chinese security forces, leading to the forced removal of about 300 monks for “political re-education” on April 22 and the beatings and detention of local Tibetans seeking to protect the monks, and drawing worldwide condemnation.
A few days before June 15, Chinese authorities announced that the long-delayed ceremony honoring the deities would again be held and invited members of the public to attend, said Kanyag Tsering and Lobsang Yeshe, Tibetan monks living at Kirti’s branch monastery in exile in India. Read on ...
Kardze Protests
Protests against Chinese rule have escalated in a Tibetan-majority region of southwestern China this week with demonstrators braving beatings and detentions, Tibetan sources in the region and in exile said.
Chinese authorities have also bolstered security amid the growing protests by local Tibetans in the town of Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) in the Kardze prefecture of China’s Sichuan province.
On Saga Dawa, a Buddhist holiday on June 15, nine Tibetans staged protests in downtown Kardze, a Tibetan resident of Kardze told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“One was a monk from Dhargyal monastery,” he said. “Four nuns, two [lay]women, and two youths also protested.”
“Their names and other details about them are not known. However, the movements of local people are restricted, and armed police are everywhere.” Read on...
Truckers in Lithang
Tibetan truck owners seeking work on road and railway projects in Tibet have been pushed aside in favor of drivers working for Chinese companies, sparking protests and clashes, Tibetan sources say.
Chinese authorities responded by sending riot troops and police to contain unrest in Shigatse in Central Tibet and Lithang in the east, sources said.
“On June 1, about 100 Tibetan drivers protested in front of Lithang county headquarters,” said Lobsang Gawa, a Tibetan living in India and citing contacts in the region.
“Because improvements to a section of the highway connecting Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province with the Tibetan capital Lhasa were planned for their area, they felt the work should be given to them,” Gawa said.
Instead, Gawa said, Chinese authorities assigned the work to 24 companies based in mainland China, which then brought in Chinese workers, sparking the protests. Read on...
The day when Xinhua is able to report in a fair and objective manner, it may not needed for 'American' radios to broadcast anymore. 
In the meantime, we can only be grateful to them.

Xinhua Comments on U.S. “Shadow Internet” Endeavor
Source: Xinhua
June 15, 2011
A Xinhua article commented on the New York Times report that the U.S. plans to invest US$70 million to develop a "shadow" Internet system and a “communication network of mobile phones” to help the opposition in Iran, Syria, and Libya avoid Internet censorship. The article said, “The U.S. spares no effort to develop such techniques. Its purpose is nothing but to have American values infiltrate other countries. … In the past decades, the U.S. spread its values mainly through broadcasters such as ‘Voice of America,’ ‘Radio Free Europe,’ and ‘Radio Free Asia.’ With the Internet boom, the U.S. has obviously moved the main battlefield of ideology to cyberspace.”

The article called the U.S. a powerful country with hacking technology. “Although always advocating 'Internet freedom,' the U.S. controls all of the 13 root servers of the world Internet. Various countries in the world have repeatedly requested that the U.S. move control over the root servers to the U.N. or other international organizations, so as to effectively ensure the freedom and security of the Internet. The U.S. has always ignored them. People cannot help asking: is it Internet freedom or the freedom to infiltrate, sabotage, and attack other countries that interests the U.S.?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Short-lived Constructions

This article found on speaks about the poor quality of the construction in China.
The author says that the average lifespan of a building in China is 25 to 30 years.
I wonder if this rule also applies to other infrastructures such dams.
Remember the Zipingpu earthquake in 2008 in Sichuan.
According to Wikipedia:"The earthquake left at least 5 million people without housing, although the number could be as high as 11 million. ...Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide reported official estimates of insurers' losses at US$1 billion from the earthquake; estimated total damages exceed US$20 billion. It values Chengdu, Sichuan Province’s capital city of 4.5 million people, at around US$115 billion, with only a small portion covered by insurance.
...Reginald DesRoches, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech, pointed out that the massive damage of properties and houses in the earthquake area was because China did not create an adequate seismic design code until after the devastating Tangshan earthquake in 1976. DesRoches said: "If the buildings were older and built prior to that 1976 earthquake, chances are they weren't built for adequate earthquake forces."
In the days following the disaster, an international reconnaissance team of engineers was dispatched to the region to make a detailed preliminary survey of damaged buildings. Their findings show a variety of reasons why many constructions failed to withstand the earthquake."

What about the dam itself. It also developed cracks. All this is quite ominous, if one look at the myriad of dams being built in China, more particularly on the rivers originating from the Tibetan plateau.

China’s Short-Lived Buildings  
[Editor’s Note: According to Mr. Qiu Baoxing, vice minister of China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the average lifespan of a building in China is 25 to 30 years. A survey by China Youth Daily shows 83.5% of the interviewees believe the primary reason for premature building demolition is “local government leaders want to build their image and embellish their job performance.” The following abridged translation is from an article appearing on, one of China’s largest news portals, titled “Why are China’s Buildings Short-Lived?”] [1]
In the early morning on March 30, two high-rise buildings in Ningbo City were demolished in order to make way for the building of a subway. This led to a public controversy over the unique Chinese "short-lived building" phenomenon. Mr. Qiu Baoxing, Vice Minister of China's Ministry of Housing and Urban-rural Development, said China builds the largest number of new buildings in the world, with an average new construction area of two billion square meters each year, but the average life of a building in China is only 25 to 30 years. Many buildings are demolished not because of problems with quality, but because of a lack of careful urban planning and protection of the atmosphere, the worship of GDP growth, and commercial interests.
In a survey conducted by China Youth Daily, 85.8% of the people surveyed indicated that their cities have had "short-lived buildings," and 50.1% were unhappy with their city’s urban planning. When asked about the cause of the short-lived buildings, 83.5% of those surveyed responded, "Local government leaders want to build their image and embellish  their job performance;" 71.8% believed that urban planning lacked scientific principles; other reasons included shabby construction quality (39.6%), developers making a quick profit (36.3%), problematic demolition approval procedures (36.2%), and architectural design problems (28.8%).
Statistics show that, in 2002, a total of 120 million square meters of Chinese urban housing was demolished, which is equivalent to 37.5% of the total of 320 million square meters that were constructed in that same year. In 2003, a total of 161 million square meters of Chinese urban housing was demolished. That represents 34.2% of China’s annual growth, and equals 41.3% of the 390 million square meters of total construction for the same year. China is the world's largest builder in terms of new construction area, with average annual new construction of 2 billion square meters, consuming 40% of the world's cement and steel production, yet what we built can only last for 25 to 30 years.
In 2003, China demolished a total of 161 million square meters of urban housing. Assuming that 200 kg of cement and 60 kg of steel go into each square meter, a total of 32.2 million tons of cement and 9.66 million tons of steel were wasted. This amount is 8.9% of all the cement and steel used in new construction in 2003. If each ton of cement costs 300 yuan and each ton of steel costs 4,000 yuan, the demolitions resulted in a loss of at least 48.3 billion yuan. In addition, since it costs about 145 kg of coal to produce 1 ton of cement and 741 kg of coal to produce 1 ton of steel, a total of 11.83 million tons of coal was wasted.
According to a report by the State authorities of housing construction, the construction of every ten thousand square meters of housing will generate only 500 to 600 tons of construction waste, while the removal of each ten thousand square meters of old buildings will produce 7,000 to 12,000 tons of construction waste. Each year in China, construction waste accounts for 30% to 40% of total municipal trash, and 400 million tons of construction waste are produced each year. The transportation, processing, and storage of this waste have a negative impact on the environment.
International building design specifications are about the same as those in China. As an example, Eurocode 1 and ISO2394: 1998 - both require that housing and other common construction should last 50 years; monuments, other special or important structures, and bridges should last at least 100 years. However, the actual lifespan of buildings in foreign countries is much longer.
When we look at Paris, we do not see many high-rise buildings. Traditional architecture is spread throughout the city with a well-organized layout, giving Paris its unique elegance.
In the 1980s, Japan proposed a "century house" construction concept, using only concrete higher than grade 40 for housing. In China, most short-lived buildings used concrete grade 20. The gap in concrete quality alone shortens the life of Chinese housing by at least ten years. In Japan, 6.6% of all housing is more than 50 years old and 38% is more than 30 years old. In the United States, 31.1% of housing is over 50 years and 58.8% of housing is more than 30 years old.
In Budapest, the government expressly bans the demolition of buildings over 50 years old. In France, the government marks and protects all construction over 20 years old and structures that are known either nationally or internationally.
In Europe, the protection of old buildings is a symbol of civilization. In Britain, France, and other European countries, century-old homes are commonplace. Many old houses are marked with eye-catching Arabic numerals showing the year of construction. This indicates the builders' confidence in the durability of the building, which has been passed down for generations. Residents in today's Europe are also proud to live in older housing. The older the construction, the higher the value.
In China, the causes for many short-lived buildings are the following: a misguided urban development policy, valuing speed over quality, the blind pursuit of GDP growth, and enhancing job performance and developers’ profits. City officials and urban planners should pay more attention to this issue. They should make sure that Chinese cities maintain their own old construction and style during periods of rapid development and avoid demolishing valuable buildings in order to make way for new projects.

Details on the premature death of some buildings:
1. Wulihe Stadium in Shenyang City. Age: 18 years; Date of Death: February 12, 2007
2. Shouyi Sports Training Center in Hubei Province. Age: 10 years; Date of Death: June 16, 2009
3. Yongchuan City Convention Center in Chongqing City. Age: 5 years; Date of Death: August 20, 2005
4. Shenyang Summer Palace. Age: 15 years; Date of Death: February 20, 2009
5. Building No.3 in the former Hubin Campus of Zhejiang University. Age: 13 years;  Date of Death: January 6, 2007
6. Bund Garden District in Wuhan City. Age: 4 years; Date of Death: March 30, 2002
7. Vienna Woods Garden District in Hefei City. Age: 0 years; Date of Death: December 10, 2005
8. Qingdao Grand Hotel. Age: 20 years; Date of Death: October 15, 2006
9. Qingdao Railway Hotel. Age: 16 years; Date of Death: January 7, 2007
10. Five Lakes Hotel in Nanchang City. Age: 13 years; Date of Death: February 6, 2010
11. Gloria Plaza in Beijing. Age: 20 years: Date of Death: the end of 2010
12. Zhongli Bridge in Lanzhou City. Age: 13 years; Date of Death: July 5, 2010
13. Shanghai Asia First Ramp Bridge. Age: 11 years; Date of Death: February 13, 2008

[1], “Why are China’s Buildings Short-Lived?” March 10, 2011.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chinese Dams in Burma

A few days ago, I posted Will China dam the Indus, quoting an article of The Financial Times affirming that Beijing has sent to Islamabad a proposal to invest 15 billions dollars to dam the Indus.
Unfortunately, the human, sociological and ethnic factors are generally not included in the cost estimate. 
Look at what is happening in Burma: a Chinese company (or a conglomerate) comes, local people are displaced, then the construction starts under Chinese soldiers' protection, creating more tension and clashes. 
Already in 2008, IDSA had mentioned these two dams in its Weekly Report: 
A Chinese-Myanmarese joint project to construct a series of hydroelectric dams in Kachin State has met with resistance from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), said sources close to the armed ethnic group. The KIO, which signed a ceasefire with the junta in 1994, was reportedly unhappy that several projects to build dams in Kachin State. Tensions soared two weeks ago when Chinese authorities refused to pay tax to the KIO, which responded by deploying soldiers around the two dams in progress - Tarpein 1 and Tarpein 2 - which are being constructed on the Tarpein River in Momauk Township by Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power No 1 and a conglomerate of Chinese companies. Soon after two battalions of armed KIO soldiers took up positions around the dams the Chinese construction workers on the project fled, causing construction to be suspended. Sources close to the KIO said that the workers returned and the project resumed about one week ago after Chinese authorities paid 1.5 million yuan (US $220,916) to the KIO. The negotiation was reportedly mediated by newly appointed Commander of Northern Command Brig-Gen Soe Win. The Tarpein 1 hydroelectric dam is designed to generate a capacity of 240 megawatts and is located about 3.5 miles from Momauk Township, while Tarpein 2, which should generate 168 megawatts, is located about 6 miles downstream of Tarpein".
Perhaps the bosses of Pakistan (btw, who are the bosses in Pakistan?) should visit Burma and inspect the Chinese dams' sites to understand the danger of getting the Indus dammed. 
The local populations in Gilgit-Baltistan may not believe in the 'all-weather-friends' concept, the way the generals do in Islamabad. 
What about Tibet? Has the Chinese Academy of Sciences taken into consideration the lakhs of local villagers and herders who will have to be 'reallocated' for the grand diversion scheme. 
These details do not probably bother Mr Guo Kai and his  friends. But it should!
To know more on the dams in Burma, visit the Burma Rivers Network website.

Poster from Burma Rivers Network

Myanmar blames Kachin rebels for fighting
The Associated Press
June 18, 2011
In its first public comments on a week of fighting in northeast Myanmar, the government said Saturday that ethnic Kachin rebels fired first and the army had to act to protect a major Chinese-built hydroelectric power project.
The skirmishes were some of the fiercest in nearly two decades between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army. They erupted June 9, displacing at least 10,000 people over the course of about one week. The rebels have blamed the government for launching an offensive after militia fighters rejected a call to leave the strategic region.
The government says it did call on rebels to leave, but accused them of firing first after threatening Chinese technicians and detaining two army officers, according to a report Saturday in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
The 8,000-strong Kachin militia is one of several minority ethnic rebel armies in Myanmar who say they are fighting for greater autonomy.
The government paper said Myanmar's military ordered rebels to withdraw from a camp near the Tarpein hydropower project, a joint venture between Myanmar's Electric Power Ministry and China.
The government said that during the fighting, militia fighters blew up power pylons that fed the project, as well as 20 bridges. The violence forced 215 Chinese employees to flee home across the border, the report said.
Military columns "had to inevitably attack the KIA just to rescue their officers ... who were detained without any reason and to protect the high-cost Tarpein hydropower project," the report said.
The U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based lobbying group, said last week the militias had returned six detained army soldiers during a lull in fighting. It was not immediately clear if the two officers reported detained by the government were among them.
Myanmar's central government has tenuous control of many parts of the country where minority groups are strongest. Many of those groups maintain their own militias. The government has reached cease-fire agreements with 17 rebel militias since 1989 and most have been allowed to keep their weapons and maintain some autonomy over their areas.
The Kachin militia reached a peace deal with the country's former ruling junta in 1994, but the truce broke down last year after the militia rejected a call by the government for them become border guards under army leadership. The junta made the appeal ahead of last November's elections, Myanmar's first in 20 years, which introduced the nominally civilian government now in power.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Karmapa Interview

While approaching the Gyuto Ramoche monastery in Sidhbari near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, one is immediately struck by the pervading peace of the complex. Since 2000, the Gyuto or Upper Tantric College, has offered as temporary accommodation, a wing of its premises, to the 17th Karmapa Lama, Ugyen Thinley Dorje, who has been in the news in recent months.
The 26-year old Lama lives here, surrounded by relatively tight security, with the majestic Dhauladhar range as a background.
Till now, apart from a few statements issued by his office, the young Lama has refused to come out of his reserve and comment on the accusations levelled against him, particularly the cash donations received by his monastery but not deposited in a bank, and his relations with India.
For the first time, he agrees to speak to in an exclusive interview to Claude Arpi, who also interviewed the newly elected prime minister of Tibet, Lobsang Sangay, in Dharmsala.
Throughout the interview, one discovers a remarkable calm young man, deeply interested in Indian culture, in art and the environment of the Himalayas, who is able to see the deeper meaning of the controversies that have surrounded him since he fled from Tibet in 1999, under amazing circumstances.
He takes time to answer each question, knowing perfectly the importance of his words. He usually prefers to speak through his interpreter, except for the last questions where he showed his proficiency in English and his sense of humour.

Your Holiness, can you tell us about your relations with India, which is often misunderstood?

My relationship to India is not something limited to the life of a single individual. This important relationship between the Karmapa lineage and India has a long history that goes back 900 years.
This relationship cannot be separated from this context. The Buddhist lineage was introduced more than 1,200 years ago in Tibet. The beginning of my own [Karmapa] lineage started 900 years ago, and its traditions are firmly rooted in India. The entire history of our lineage goes back to India. The lineage transmitted by the Karmapa comes from India, and was passed through the great Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa and Mahapandita Naropa, whom we revere as our forefathers in this Dharma lineage. Without these Indian sages as predecessors, the history of the Karmapas lineage would have not come into existence. Thus the Karmapa lineage itself is rooted deeply in the very soil of India.
Continuing with this historical background, at the end of the 1950s, when Tibet went through a critical period, Tibetans turned to India. Not only did they turn to India, but India responded warmly and since then has truly been a generous host for the Tibetan people -- not only for His Holiness the Dalai Lama but also for the many tens of thousands who took refuge [in India] and who now form the Tibetan diaspora. India has been a great host; India extended her hospitality to the displaced Tibetan people, for whom that hospitality was not a mere formality, but a matter of life or death.
On top of this, India has provided a sanctuary for the preservation of our Buddhist religious and cultural heritage as well as our Tibetan culture in general.
When the times were so difficult, when we were in such an utterly helpless situation, to whom did we turn? To India! And India provided the refuge we so desperately needed.
Even someone like me, born after 1959, I have heard so much about the kindness and generosity of the Indian people after 1959. It is much talked about among Tibetans. In my generation, there is a general attitude of gratitude towards India to the extent that when Tibetans think of a place for refuge, a land of peace and freedom, where the meaning and purpose of our life can be fulfilled, we immediately think of India. This is why the Tibetan people, myself included, have eagerly turned to India for refuge. We have the feeling that just by reaching the holy land of India, we have accomplished something of great meaning in our lives.

Read on...

And Long and Dark shall be the Night

Very sad news heard on Radio Free Asia! 
The house of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama has been demolished by the People's Liberation Army.
Can you imagine the house where Abraham Lincoln or Churchill or Napoleon Bonaparte lived, being brought down to build army barracks?
Is it the hallmark of a civilized society?
Once again, it shows that in Tibet, China acts purely as a colonizer
Are we living in the 21st or the 19th century?
The Testament of the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama comes to my mind:
However, the Gods whom I followed like a shadow, the venerable teachers, those who reveres me, those who offered me their wealth and property, the rich and the poor, they, my subjects, all have not only in words but in heart imposed upon me their hopes and aspirations. Because of this, I can not think of giving up my responsibilities. Therefore, with what little I know, I am trying my best to serve you all earnestly and honestly. But remember I am now reaching my fifty eighth year and as you all are aware that between me and the new reincarnation there will be a period when there will be no ruler.
Therefore take measures now. Maintain friendly relations with the two great powers, China and India, conscript able soldiers to guard the borders and make them sufficiently strong to ward off those countries with whom we have had border disputes. The armed forces should be drilled and disciplined so as to be effective and strong to overcome those who threaten us. These precautions should be taken at a time when the forces of degeneration are most prevalent and when Communism is on the spread.
Remember the fate that befell the Mongolian nation when Communists overran the country and where the Head Lama's reincarnation was for-bidden, where property was totally confiscated and where monasteries and religion were completely wiped out. These things have happened, are happening and will happen in the land which is the Centre of Buddhism [Tibet].
If you are not able to defend yourselves now, the institutions of the Dalai Lama, venerable incarnates and those who protect the Teachings shall be wiped out completely. Monasteries shall be looted, property confiscated and all living beings shall be destroyed. The memorable rule of the Three Guardian kings of Tibet, the very institutions of the state and religion shall be banned and forgotten. The property of the officials shall be confiscated; they shall be slaves of the conquerors and shall roam the land in bondage. All souls shall be immersed in suffering and the night shall be long and dark.
Now, when there is peace and happiness, when you have the power, work, work earnestly and wholeheartedly for the general welfare. Use peaceful methods where peace is due, use force where force is necessary: work and persevere now, that there are no regrets later. In your hands, officials of the Government, the holders of the Teachings and my people, lies the future of the country. Without employing wrong and base methods, rise up together and work for the general good of the land. If you do, we too will have the assurance and protection given by the State Oracle to Guru Rinpoche and the lineage of the previous Dalai Lamas.
For my part, to those who work and persevere for the general good, I offer them my prayers and blessings. For those who only work for their own welfare, the fate and Karma will take care of them. Though they might prosper for some time, leaving aside their Government duties and watching the time pass, all I see is disaster in the future. It would be too late then to regret.
In my lifetime conditions will be as they are now, peaceful and quiet. But the future holds darkness and misery. I have warned you of these things because of my experience and other important reasons.
More I cannot say or advise.

13th Dalai Lama's Home Demolished
Chinese authorities reject family appeals to protect historic site.
A backhoe demolishes the former family home of the 13th Dalai Lama in Thakpo, Tibet, June 10, 2011.
Chinese authorities have demolished the century-old Langdun family residence of Tibet’s 13th Dalai Lama despite appeals to protect the heritage site, a Tibetan source close to the Langdun family said.
The house of Thupten Gyatso, predecessor to the current Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, was situated close to the Kyichu river, south of Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
It was located in an area controlled by the Lhasa Military Center and was declared a "historic structure to be protected," said the source, who lives in Tibet.
He said that demolition of the house began on June 10.
“This historic house about 100 years old with ties to the 13th Dalai Lama was demolished within a short time,” he added.
The 13th Dalai Lama, often referred to by Tibetans as the “Great 13th,” was born to a peasant couple in Dakpo in southern Tibet.
“Family members of the Langdun household appealed to the Lhasa city government to protect [the residence] from demolition, but they were disappointed," the source said.
"City authorities explained that they were helpless when the house is located in the area controlled by Lhasa Military Center.”
Authorities tightlipped
Contacted for details of the demolition, a female official of the Lhasa Military Center said, "I am sorry, I don’t know about it.”
Thupten Gyatso was recognized by Tibetan religious authorities as the reincarnation of the 12th Dalai in 1877.
The 13th Dalai Lama ruled Tibet during a British invasion of the country in 1904 and a Chinese invasion in 1909/10, but survived both experiences with his authority enormously enhanced, according to the website of the current Dalai Lama.
He later predicted China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet and died at the age of 57 in December 1933 after urging modernization of the Tibetan Army.
The current Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese occupation, has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle for more than five decades.
Reported by Yeshi Tashi for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Richard Finney.
Copyright © 1998-2011 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A treaty on river sharing with China?

It is good if Indian officials  start batting for a 'credible' water sharing treaty with China on the lines of the Indus Water Treaty, as this article of Telhelka reported.
On May 21, 1997, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.
The Convention "aimed at guiding States in negotiating agreements on specific watercourses and invited States and regional economic integration organizations to become parties to it. The Assembly took that action through its adoption, by 103 votes in favour to 3 against (Turkey, China, Burundi) with 27 abstentions (India is one of the nations which abstained).
The 37-article Watercourses Convention and its 14-article annex governs the non-navigational uses of international watercourses, as well as measures to protect, preserve and manage them. Viewed as a framework Convention, it addresses such issues as flood control, water quality, erosion, sedimentation, saltwater intrusion and living resources.
A number of States who abstained or voted against the text drew attention to a lack of consensus on several of its key provisions, such as those governing dispute settlement. A number of speakers said there was a lack of balance in its provisions between the rights and obligations of the upstream and downstream riparian States. Concern was also expressed that the Convention had deviated from the aim of being a framework agreement.
Statements were made by the representatives of Japan, Mexico, the United Republic of Tanzania, Turkey, Bolivia, Pakistan, Czech Republic, China, Slovakia, France, India, Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel, Spain and Rwanda.

During the debate at the UN, Indian Permanent Representative Prakash Shah explained why India abstained. He regretted that:
the Convention had not been adopted by consensus. While a framework convention should provide general principles, the present Convention had deviated from that approach. Specifically, he had reservations regarding its articles 3, 5, 32, and 33. Article 3 had not adequately reflected a State's autonomy to conclude agreements without being fettered by the Convention. Article 5 had not been drafted clearly and would be difficult to implement. The Convention had superimposed the principle of "sustainable utilization" over the principle of utilization without appropriately defining the term "sustainable". India had abstained in the voting on draft articles 5, 6 and 7 in the working group.
Article 32 presupposed regional integration and hence did not merit inclusion, he went on to say. Article 33, on dispute settlement,contained an element of compulsion. Any procedure for peaceful settlement of disputes should leave the procedure to the parties. Any mandatory third-party dispute procedure was inappropriate and should not be included in a framework convention. He had voted against the provision in the working group and would have voted against had the article been put to a separate vote today. His country had therefore abstained in the voting.

It was rather technical objections which could be certainly sorted out.
One of the solutions to solve the debate on the diversion of the Brahmaputra would be for India to sign this Convention. It would put China in a very awkward position.
Another solution would be to have a bilateral Treaty/Agreement with China like the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan. It is quite remarkable this Treaty survived several conflicts between the two neighbours.
Unless China agrees in a legal form that the rivers of Tibet do not 'belong' to China only, suspicion will remain.

Govt bats for Indus water-like treaty with China
Iftikhar Gilani
New Delhi
BATING for a “credible” water sharing treaty with China on the lines of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) India has Pakistan, government officials here admitted there was no “verifiable system” of checking or probing China’s dam building spree particularly on the on the Yarlung Tsangpo River (aka Brahmaputra). Officially, however, India on Monday said it was verifying reports of such activity.
“We are seeking details from our Embassy in China. We are trying to get more details both from the government and depending on the reports we get, we will be able to make an assessment and take appropriate steps,” External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said.
“We have no reason to believe otherwise,” the government sources said, when asked if the satellite imagery has been indicating any activity along the river.
India’s worry mostly stem from the fact, that any Chinese activity of blocking waters would spell disaster on several hydropower coming up in Arunachal Pradesh.
Of India’s hydropower potential of 150,000 megawatts (MW), 50,000 MW is in the northeast. And AP, which is mainly fed by Brahmaputra’s tributaries –Siang, Subansiri and Lohit.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Bohai Diversion project

Apparently, the diversion of the Brahmaputra is in competition with another diversion: the idea is to pump water from the Bohai Sea, the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea on the coast of Northeastern China and push it up to Xinxiang.
The Chinese press reported that on November 5, 2010, the Xinjiang People’s Government Development Research Center and Institute of Western and Eastern Economy sponsored a conference in Wushi to discuss 'The Plan for the Diversion of Sea Water to Western China'.
Over 120 experts from throughout China gathered to find a solution to the water issue which is obstacle for Xinjiang's development: “Huo Youguang, a professor at Xian Transportation University, along with Chen Changli, a professor at China University of Geosciences, came up with the basic idea of diverting seawater from the Bohai Sea to Xinjiang. They believe that such a diversion project can thoroughly improve the deteriorating environmental conditions of north and northwest China.”
Later, it was announced that the Development and Reform Commission [Planning Commission] of Inner Mongolia and Liaoning province had approved the project and that five construction sites related to the project had become operational. This was later denied.
On November 17, 2010, Xinhua published a news item under the title Experts: Water diversion from Bohai to Xinjiang unfeasible (see below).
A similar discussion will probably take place for the Great Western Diversion (the diversion of the Brahmaputra).
Some scientists/bureaucrats will say it is ‘impossible’; some will argue, 'we can do it'.
The fact remains that today, China is badly in needs:
1- To stop the desertification in Xinjiang, Gansu and Inner Mongolia
2- To have the Yellow running again
3- To feed its people (for which water is required)
If such grandiose and seemingly unrealizable projects are even thought of, it is because the situation is quite desperate and nobody is able to foresee any better solution.
But Beijing should look again into the disastrous performances of the Gorges Dam and the two first legs of the Diversion scheme (Eastern and Central parts) before taking a hurried decision.

Experts: Water diversion from Bohai to Xinjiang unfeasible
November 17, 2010
A proposal to divert water from the Bohai Sea on China's eastern coast to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the far west to fight deserts and sandstorms is "unfeasible" and an "illusion," water resources scientists and experts said Tuesday.
They made the remarks while responding to questions at a press conference in Beijing concerning a study on Xinjiang's water strategy and sustainable development.
Shi Yulin, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a research fellow at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the salt contained in the huge amount of diverted sea water could further encrust the saline land in Xinjiang.
Li Zechun, an academician at Chinese Academy of Engineering, and former director of National Climate Center, said the sea water could not produce sufficient vapor to create enough rainfall to affect the climate in northwestern regions.
Ning Yuan, former deputy director and research fellow of the South-North Water Diversion Project Commission (SNWDPC) of the State Council, said the Bohai Sea was 5,000 km from Xinjiang, five times the distance of the South-North Water Diversion from Danjiangkou, in central Hubei Province, to Beijing.
That meant the laying of a pipeline, the huge cost of the project, and the water distribution were all problems "beyond imagination," Ning said.
In a widely reported meeting on November 5 in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, researchers and local government officials discussed the proposal to divert water from east China to the west.
According to the proposal, the huge amount of sea water, if diverted to the west, could form man-made lakes and rivers and serve as vapor source to create more rainfall to contain the threat of desertification in north and northwest China.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More on the Diversion

More details are coming out on the new diversion plan for the Yarlong Tsangpo/Brahmaputra.
It seems that these plans are similar the ones earlier expounded by Li Ling and Gao Kai in Li Lings' book Tibet’s Water Will Save China.
Interestingly, Wang Guangqian, a scientist of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Engineering has the backing of Li Ruihuan, a former member of the Standing Committee of the CCP's Politburo and former Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Many in the PLA as well as the mega dam companies are also be backing the project (a 35 billion dollars project is worth backing!??).
One of the issues is that the two first legs of the 'diversion' mega project are running into serious technical and human difficulties.
On June 1, The New York Times reported: 
A chronic drought is ravaging farmland.The Gobi Desert is inching south. The Yellow River, the so-called birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer supply drinking water. The rapid growth of megacities — 22 million people in Beijing and 12 million in Tianjin alone — has drained underground aquifers that took millenniums to fill. Not atypically, the Chinese government has a grand and expensive solution: Divert at least six trillion gallons of water each year hundreds of miles from the other great Chinese river, the Yangtze, to slake the thirst of the north China plain and its 440 million people.
The project is facing several problems: the construction has been seriously delayed (very unusual phenomenon in China). The cost have overshot the estimates and last, but not the least, waters are reaching their destination polluted. The New York Times wrote:
Overseers of the eastern route, which is being built alongside an ancient waterway for barges called the Grand Canal, have found that the drinking water to be brought to Tianjin from the Yangtze is so polluted that 426 sewage treatment plants have to be built; water pollution control on the route takes up 44 percent of the $5 billion investment, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. The source water from the Han River on the middle route is cleaner. But the main channel will cross 205 rivers and streams in the industrial heartland of China before reaching Beijing."When water comes to Beijing, there’s the danger of the water not being safe to drink,” said Dai Qing, an environmental advocate who has written critically about the Three Gorges Dam.
A video on The New York Times is telling. Just watch it.
The problems may be different for the Great Western Diversion (or even the 'Small' Western Diversion), but the delay of the Eastern and Central parts is certainly an issue to consider for the 'deciders'.
Another issue is the cost. According to the chinadialogue's article: "Wang Guangqian’s team is understood to be working with the South-North Water Transfer office to organize a feasibility study of their proposal. Li Ling, author of Tibet’s Water Will Save China, has long been following these proposals. He said that the Institute of Advanced Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is using supercomputers and data modelling to simulate the Major Western Route and evaluate its feasibility."
In 2006, the Chinese government pretended that 'a few mad men' were thinking of this pharaonic project, but if these few 'mad men' (supported by a former Politburo's Standing Committee member) are able to use the super computers of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for their calculations, they may not be that mad.
In the meantime, Foreign Minister S M Krishna said the Indian Government "has sought a report on the matter from its mission in Beijing.We are trying to get more details both from the government and our mission and then depending upon the report that we get, we will be able to make an assessment and take appropriate diplomatic steps."
More comical, The Times of India reported that an "Indian officials said they were looking at the situation closely even though there was no evidence yet to suggest any major diversion by China of Brahmaputra."
How can there be evidences for a project supposed to start in 50 years?
All what Wang Guangqian said that the project should be started much earlier than originally planned and feasibility work should be done now. The only evidences are in the super computers of the Chinese Academy of Science.

Diversion debate
Zhang Ke
June 13, 2011
The zeal for engineering China’s rivers continues unabated among hydrologists. But will the latest proposal – to move water from Tibet to Xinjiang – get the backing of the authorities? Zhang Ke reports.
Chinese scientists have dreamed up yet another mega engineering scheme: to divert water from Tibet’s Yarlung Zangbo River, along a course that follows the Tibet-Qinghai railway line to Golmud, through the Gansu Corridor and, finally, to Xinjiang, in north-west China.
The man behind the proposal is Wang Guangqian, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and director of Tsinghua University’s State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering. Although the Ministry of Water Resources has not given its support to the scheme, Wang insists it is “feasible”.
On June 3, Wang revealed that the authorities are considering a water-diversion plan for western China. He told reporters that, the previous day, Li Ruihuan – former member of the standing committee of the Political Bureau and chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – had gathered Wang and others together to give and listen to presentations on the proposal. He said that everyone there was in agreement: “It is time for a water-diversion project in western China.”
It has previously been suggested that such a project could move 200 billion cubic metres of water a year – the equivalent of four Yellow Rivers. It would require core project finance of more than 200 billion yuan (US$30.9 billion) and be “an unprecedented undertaking in the history of the Chinese people.”
As to why it’s necessary, Wang explained that water usage has dramatically increased as a result of social and economic development on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and Yellow River. Climate change and other factors are driving desertification, while water coming from the upper reaches of those rivers is decreasing (for more information on threats to the quality and supply of water in this region posed by factors including glacier-melt in the Himalayas, see chinadialogue’s report “The Waters of the Third Pole: Sources of Threat, Sources of Survival”). A survey by the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Institute found that, since the 1980s, the quantity of water flowing from the Yellow River above the city of Lanzhou, in north-western China, has fallen by an average of 13% a year. In 2002, it dropped 46%.
In addition, grain-growing regions such as Henan in central China and Xinjiang in the north-west rely on large quantities of groundwater. To date, almost all major cities in a region bounded by Harbin to the north, Urumqi to the north-west, Shanghai to the east and Haikou to the south, have experienced subsidence due to groundwater extraction. “There’s no way that situation is sustainable,” said Wang. “But there is still potential to exploit the more plentiful water resources of the south-west.”
Figures from the Chinese Academy of Sciences show that rivers on the Qinghai-Tibet and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, including the Yarlung Zangbo, Nu and Lancang, carry between 637 billion cubic metres and 810 billion cubic metres of water out of China each year. Because little of the water in these rivers is used within China’s borders, most of it flows on to India and south-east Asia – where they become the Brahmaputra, Salween and Mekong, respectively.
Wang’s proposal is distinct from the South-North Water Transfer Project, another mega infrastructure scheme approved by the State Council in December 2002. Under that plan, a “western route” would “bring water from the Tongtian, Yalong and Dadu tributaries of the upper Yangtze to the Yellow River,” in order to relieve water shortages in the regions of Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia.
However, I understand from the State Council’s South-North Water Transfer project office that, so far, no concrete plans have been formulated for the western route. Speaking at a party meeting on May 13, the head of that office, E Jingping, said: “There is currently a significant gap between preliminary work being done on the project and actual requirements. In particular, much more work is needed to explain the necessity, importance and feasibility of the project in the context of national sustainable development.”
Wang Guangqian stated that the idea for his proposal – dubbed the Major Western Route – came from independent water-resources expert Guo Kai, and has many supporters. “Everybody gets really excited when they hear about it,” he said.
Guo Kai told me the project name was originally chosen to distinguish the scheme from the western route of the South-North Water Transfer project. He came up with the idea as early as 1990: take 201 billion cubic metres of water every year from the Yarlung Zangbo, divert it through the Nu, Nancang, Jinsha, Yalong and Dadu rivers, over the Aba watershed and into the Yellow River. Guo believes this project would not only ease water shortages in the north of China, but also transform desert landscapes, increase farmland, provide power and create jobs.
“It would only take five to eight years to build, and cost 225 billion yuan [US$34.7 billion] in 1997 terms,” Guo said, adding that the Yarlung Zangbo, Nu River and Lancang River are capable of providing some 380 billion cubic metres of water annually – more than enough to cover the 206 billion cubic metres required each year by the project.
Zhao Nanqi, former CPPCC vice-chair, is a keen advocate of Guo’s idea. “Guo Kai’s proposal for the Major Western Route has given us inspiration and hope,” he said.
But the plan has failed to secure the backing of the Ministry of Water Resources and other key authorities. Former water-resources minister Wang Shucheng has described the proposal as “misguided and unscientific”. Domestic and international environmental groups are also concerned – if it goes ahead, the project could have complex and far-reaching ecological impacts.
China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, released in March, includes improving the movement of water resources between north and south and east and west, and between rivers and reservoirs, building cross-basin water-diversion projects and improving access to water both in the north and the south.
Several different water-diversion projects for the west of China are under discussion. Besides the two plans outlined above, former member of the Yangtze River Commission Lin Yishan has proposed a “Major Western Route Water Diversion”; Chen Chuanyou of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Natural Resources Institute has put forward the “Tibetan Water for the North” scheme, while the Guiyang Hydropower Investigation Research and Design Institute is investigating its own “Major Western Route”. The list goes on. All of these aim to move large quantities of water from the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to the west and north of China.
Wang Guangqian’s team is understood to be working with the South-North Water Transfer office to organise a feasibility study of their proposal.
Li Ling, author of Tibet’s Water Will Save China, has long been following these proposals. He said that the Institute of Advanced Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is using supercomputers and data modelling to simulate the Major Western Route and evaluate its feasibility.
“National leaders only decided to go ahead with the Three Gorges Dam and projects on the Irtysh River, Ili River and Tarim River after seeing data-modelling and three-dimensional imaging that demonstrated their feasibility,” explained Li. He added that an initial simulation of the proposal has already been produced in Shenzhen, south China, but limitations in the data used to create it means it cannot be made public.
Li believes that the technological and engineering experience gained from constructing the Qinghai-Tibet railway – which involved challenges such as building on permafrost and working for many years in low-oxygen environments and environmentally vulnerable regions – will help to solve many of the problems presented by the Major Western Route. Building the railway cost 2 billion yuan (US$308 million) in environmental protection alone.
“If you can successfully build a railway between 4,500 metres and 5,072 metres above sea level, building the Major Western Route at 3,588 metres to 3,366 metres is not going to be a problem,” said Li.
Zhang Ke is a reporter at China Business News.

Monday, June 13, 2011

For a few beans more

Many observers believe that soybean is planted at such a rate in Brazil that the demand is going to destroy the Amazon rainforest. 
Earth First, an  environmental group wrote: "And if worldwide demand continues to multiply the way it has over the past decade, Brazilian officials will likely give in to economic pressure to continue clearing forests in order to plant more of the crop." 
Lester R. Brown, the President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of the famous Who will Feed China commented: 
Some 3,000 years ago, farmers in eastern China domesticated the soybean. In 1765, the first soybeans were planted in North America. Today the soybean occupies more US cropland than wheat. And in Brazil, where it spread even more rapidly, the soybean is invading the Amazon rainforest.
During the closing decades of the last century, Japan was the leading soybean importer, at nearly five million tons per year. As recently as 1995, China was essentially self-sufficient in soybeans, producing and consuming roughly 13 million tons of soybeans a year. Then the dam broke as rising incomes enabled many of China’s 1.3 billion people to move up the food chain, consuming more meat, milk, eggs and farmed fish. By 2009 China was consuming 55 million tons of soybeans, of which 41 million tons were imported, accounting for 75% of its soaring consumption.
Since 1950 the world soybean harvest has climbed from 17 million tons to 250 million tons, a gain of more than 14-fold. This contrasts with growth in the world grain harvest of less than fourfold. Soybeans are the second-ranking US crop after corn, and they totally dominate agriculture in both Brazil and Argentina.
Now China is buying lakhs of acres of land to plant soybeans in Brazil.
The Brazilian government is applauding: "We welcome Chinese investment in Brazil", this not land grabbing. 
Fine, but Brazil still has a problem, if it ready to gave away its own fertile soil for a few beans (or yuans) more.  
Moreover, this problem is very much linked to our previous posting and the possibility to divert the Brahmaputra. 
China needs water to grow food: either it diverts the waters flowing to South Asia or it grows the food abroad. Or both!

China's Land Purchases in Brazil
China Review News
June 6, 2011
The cheap land in Brazil has attracted massive investment from foreign individuals and companies, including Chinese. By October 2010, China's state-run Chongqing Grain Group Co., Ltd. had developed 800,000 mu (131,790 acres) of soybean plantation farmland in Brazil. It plans to reclaim one million mu (164,736 acres) more farmland, for a total investment of over 5 billion Chinese yuan (US$771 million), making Brazil China's largest overseas soybean oil production base.
In addition, Zhejiang Province's Fudi Agricultural Co., Ltd. has invested 200 million yuan (US$31 million) in the purchase of 16,800 hectare of Brazilian land for a soybean plantation. Meanwhile, China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO), China's largest state-owned food giant, has also shown interest.
Ye Anping, an official from China's Ministry of Agriculture, denied that the purchase is a land grab. "Local business enterprises' land purchases overseas have nothing to do with the policies of the Ministry of Agriculture," said Ye. At the same time, the Brazilian Embassy in China stated, "We welcome Chinese investment in Brazil."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Will China divert the Brahmaputra?

For the first time last month, the State Council (the Chinese Cabinet) acknowledged the serious problems faced by the mega Three Gorges Dam.
A statement on government's website affirmed: “At the same time that the Three Gorges project provides huge comprehensive benefits, urgent problems must be resolved regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection, and geological disaster prevention.”
The statement came at the end of a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao: “Problems emerged at various stages of project planning and construction but could not be solved immediately, and some arose because of increased demands brought on by economic and social development”, it explained.
An article of Reuters quoted Dai Qing, an environmental activist who said the damage caused by the dam in some cases is irreversible: "The most serious threat is that of geological disasters. Now that the dam is in place, no amount of money can fix the problem. It fundamentally cannot be resolved.”
Dai said that Premier Wen and President Hu, respectively trained as geological and hydraulic engineers did not turn up at the opening function of the dam because they knew ‘the risks of the project’.
In the post Fukushima era, it is logical to expect that governments would honestly study the geology around these mega projects.
These ‘irreversible’ issues should also trigger fresh researches into the most seismic region on the planet: the Tibetan plateau.
Will officials planning the construction of myriads of dams on the Tibetan rivers take into account the seismic conditions before starting the constructions? This cannot be solved once dams are built.
In this context, it is very unfortunate that for the first time in 5 years, a Chinese official spoke of the possibility on diverting the Yarlung-Tsangpo/Brahmaputra towards northern China.
The website quoted Wang Guangqian, a scholar of the Chinese Academy of Sciences saying: “Chinese experts have raised a new proposal to divert water from the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra River to the country’s northwestern province of Xinjiang. The water diversion route in the proposal, named the ‘Grand Western Canal’, is slightly different from the ‘Western Canal’ mentioned in China’s well-known South-North Water Diversion Project.”
Wang explained the Chinese rationale: “Faced with severe challenges brought by reduced water resources and a severe drought that has affected a large portion of the country, China has started to consider diverting water from the Brahmaputra River, the watercourse that originates upstream from southwestern Tibet and finally enters India.”
The last time that we officially heard about the diversion of the Brahmaputra was in November 2006 when President Hu Jintao was soon to visit India. China had decided to assuage the legitimate worries of the Indian government.
Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng, a hydraulic engineer, affirmed then that the proposal was "unnecessary, unfeasible and unscientific. There is no need for such dramatic and unscientific projects."
He however admitted that there a plan in the drawers, but “the project involves major financial and technical difficulties”. Further, “the cost of diverting water from the Yarlung Tsangpo would be much more expensive than any of the current water projects.”
At that time, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao also confirmed: “The Chinese government has no plans to build a dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo River (the China part of the Brahmaputra) to divert water to the Yellow River.”
The Chinese media criticized Li Ling's book Tibet's water will Save China in which the Chinese engineer details the diversion scheme, also known as Shuomatan Canal (from Suma Tan in Tibet to Tanjing in China).
As President Hu arrived in Delhi, other Chinese 'experts' were engaged to denounce the plans of Li Ling and Gao Kai (a retired PLA General and proponent of the project).
Qin Hui, a professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of Tsinghua University declared: “We have to take the international response into consideration. It is undoubted that the lower reaches of Yarlung Tsangpo River are within India's Assam Province, where it is a lifeline for local agriculture and backbone of the economy, just as it is further downstream in Bangladesh.”
Qin added: “It is so obvious that the proposed damming project will have a cascading effect leading to a natural disaster in the lower foreign reaches of the Brahmaputra, Salween and Mekong rivers.”
Liu Changming, a hydrologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who has advised the government on these proposals, confirmed that a team of water experts from the Chinese Academy of Engineers, an advisory group of prominent scientists “had concluded that the proposal to tap the Brahmaputra River would be far too expensive, technologically unfeasible and ...too controversial”. He nevertheless admitted: “There may be some retired officials that support the plan, but they're not the experts advising the government.”
Now, Prof Wang Guangqian of the Chinese Academy of Sciences seems to say that China has no choice but to do it.
Wang Guangqian speaks of a newly proposed route: “Brahmaputra waters are expected to be rerouted to Xinjiang along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the Hexi Corridor – part of the Northern Silk Road located in Gansu Province. Wang admitted “We thought this would be a plan 50 years later,” adding that presently Chinese experts and governmental officials are still studying the feasibility and possible impacts of distinct proposals.
There is a big difference between 2006 and today: with the opening of the tunnel to Metok (Motuo) in December 2010, the Chinese engineers now have the possibility to start the mega power plant which could provide the necessary energy to the diversion scheme, planned a couple of hundred kilometers upstream the Brahmaputra.
Two important factors have to be understood.
One, hydropower lobbies have a financial interest in ‘concretizing’ the project as soon as possible. Last week, an article in The Financial Times said that “China’s Three Gorges Project Corporation has proposed a $15bn hydropower scheme to Pakistan to dam the Indus river valley at several points, in a project aimed at controlling floods and tackling electricity shortages.”
Dams, whether in Pakistan or Tibet, mean big business and the large Chinese corporations will continue to lobby hard to get the projects through.
The second crucial factor is the cost-benefit perspective. The Chinese leadership is very down-to-earth, rational. A friend who worked on the issue told me: “If the price of transferring water is cheaper than conservation or getting water from the sea, China will go ahead.”
When it makes its calculations, Beijing will however have to take into account the cost of a serious conflict with India. The price of water may then become exorbitant.
And Beijing should look again into the disastrous performance of the Gorges Dam before taking a hurried decision.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Censured by China

Here are the results of a test for this blog by the site which checks if a site is able to pass the Chinese censure.
Results = fail, fail, fail (no servers were able to reach you site. This means that your site is most likely NOT accessible from within mainland China).
C'est la vie (with Chinese characteristics)!

Fighting it out in cyberspace

This article has been published in The Pioneer (yesterday's edition).

In today’s cyber age, missiles, bombs and guns will become increasingly irrelevant as nations hack into each other’s computer servers to rob data.

Sometimes one can see a smile appearing behind the most serious issues. The ease with which hackers can intrude into the privacy of your e-mail accounts or hack your personal computers is one of these serious issues which make individuals and Governments extremely uncomfortable. But not always. At times, it can also bring a smile, as it happened recently when MI6, Britain’s external spy agency, and the Government Communications Headquart-ers managed to penetrate one of Al Qaeda’s websites whose objective was to recruit ‘lone wolf’ agents.
According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, “When Al Qaeda followers tried to download the 67-page colour magazine, instead of instructions about how to ‘Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom’ by ‘The AQ Chef’ they were greeted with … cupcake recipes.” The British intelligence hackers had removed the original page containing instructions for making a lethal pipe bomb using sugar, match heads and a miniature light bulb attached to a timer and substituted it with a recipe for making cupcakes.
In April 2010, an incident which lasted 18 minutes sent shivers through the Pentagon and the White House. A report of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission later admitted that the Internet traffic of the US Administration and military was briefly redirected through servers in China. The 18-minute hijack affected about 15 per cent of the world’s online traffic, particularly that of Nasa, the US Senate, the military and the office of the Secretary of Defence.
More recently, Google has again accused China of stealing personal passwords and breaking into sensitive e-mail boxes. The spokesperson for Google said, “We recently uncovered a campaign to collect user passwords, likely through phishing. This campaign, which appears to originate from Jinan, China, affected what seem to be the personal Gmail accounts of hundreds of users including, among others, senior US Government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries (predominantly South Korea), military personnel and journalists.” This was a pointed accusation, as an important signals’ intelligence unit of the PLA is located in Jinan.
Google’s accusation was immediately denied by the Chinese Government. The China Daily spoke of a ‘political farce’: “Google is playing its old tricks at a time when the US Government and the public are making a great whoop on the issue of the Internet. One is led to believe that Google has attempted to play a role in a political farce… Therefore, if Google has really suffered from ‘Chinese hackers’ attacks, it could resort to the judicial cooperation mechanism between China and the US to find solutions.”
A week earlier, the American defence contractor Lockheed Martin admitted that it had also been hacked, though “it managed to stop the ‘tenacious’ attack before any critical data was stolen”. Knowing that Lockheed Martin deals with US defence hardware and software, this news would not have left the Obama Administration indifferent.
What American analysts fear the most is an ‘electronic Pearl Harbour’. The US’s apprehensions are underscored by what Mr James Miller, the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, has had to say on this issue: “Over the past decade, we have seen the frequency and sophistication of intrusions into our networks increased. Our networks are scanned thousands of times an hour."
On May 25, China Review News, a publication in Chinese language, reported that the Ministry of National Defence spokesman, Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng, had acknowledged the existence of a professional cyberwarfare unit at Guangzhou Military Region (known as the ‘Online Blue Army’). Col Geng admitted: “China’s network protection is comparatively weak. Enhancing IT capacity and strengthening network security protection are important components of military training for an Army.” He refused to answer whether the objective of the ‘Online Blue Army’ was to attack other countries.
While the Chinese Foreign Ministry has dismissed Google’s allegations, two PLA Senior Colonels, Ye Zheng and Zhao Baoxian, have written an essay for China Youth Daily, arguing that Beijing needs cyberwarfare skills: “Just as nuclear warfare was the strategic war of the industrial era, cyberwarfare has become the strategic war of the information era, and this has become a form of battle that is massively destructive and concerns the life and death of nations.” The PLA is said to have already conducted simulated cyberbattles between a ‘Blue Army’ fighting a ‘Red Team’ using virus and mass spam attacks.
The future is rather depressing. According to The Wall Street Journal the Pentagon is ready to respond to computer sabotage with military force. “The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the US to respond using traditional military force,” the daily said recently. But it is not an easy proposition to decide at what point computer hacking can be construed as an act of war. Apparently the Pentagon has defined some criteria, but are they reliable?
Another issue is how to be sure of the origin of the attack. Further, will missiles solve hacking problems or will they just be a deterrent? Look at the situation in Libya: Despite thousands of missiles being launched, three months into the conflict Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is still going strong. There is clearly no ready-made solutions to cyberwar.
But there is another side to the issue. Kaspersky Security Lab Service recently published a fascinating interview on China’s cybersecurity and the fact that China is itself extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks. A friend commented, “I’m not surprised that China is vulnerable. This is yet another example of why security is asymmetric in nature. It calls for great effort to plug all the holes (defensive action) as opposed to the effort required to find one hole (offensive action).” In the cyberworld, offence is the best defence. This is ‘active defence’.
China’s hackers will probably continue to attack targets abroad. However, the fact remains that China’s servers are possibly not so secure. If Beijing refuses to cooperate, it could also face serious problems with protecting official data.
A Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit was recently held in London with Ministers from the UK, the US, China, India and France gathering to discuss how to combat the threat of cyber-terrorism. Different opinions were shared. France, for example, believes that if nations are able to work together and set up international security standards, national laws are enough to fight this scourge.
For India the situation is different: It sees cyberspace as a borderless world; therefore, a global legal regime is needed to deal with issue. As Mr Kapil Sibal, Minister in charge of IT and communications, says, “The nature of cyberspace is that it is borderless and anonymous and it is not subject to Government territories that have laws,” adding, “There is a fundamental contradiction between Government regulation and the nature of cyberspace.”