The Future of Asia's Nature and Culture
Robert Oxnam, President Emeritus, Asia Society
Dai Qing, writer and activist opposing the building of China's Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest dam
Kenny Bruno, Campaigns Coordinator, EarthRights International
Joan Carling, Secretary General, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Philippines
Kirk Talbott, Vice President, Asia Pacific Division, Conservation International(moderator)
Ladies and gentlemen, I am Bob Oxnam, President Emeritus of the Asia Society. I am also a trustee of the Erpf Fund which is the supporter of this new series of programs. I’ve always tried to be organized and I will try to do that tonight.
I have four reasons why it’s a pleasure to introduce this evening’s program. The first is this is the first chance I’ve had to welcome you to the newly renovated Asia Society. Since I’m not directly responsible for it, I can say that I think they’ve done a spectacular job and I hope that all of you enjoy coming to the many programs in the years ahead. Someone who is responsible both for the renovation and also the overseeing of this evening’s program happens to be someone I know extremely well. I wanted to acknowledge the presence of Vishakha Desai, Senior Vice President of the Asia Society. She also happens to be my wife.
The second reason why it’s a pleasure to welcome all of you is that tonight, we launch a new series of programs under the rubric of the Future of Asia’s Nature and Culture. It will, over a number of years, through a variety of programs, look at the impact of development on Asia’s environment and also on Asia’s man-made monuments. It will feature a variety of public events drawing together, as we did tonight, a sterling panel. Other panels, in the future, will bring together journalists, scientists, environmentalists, preservationists, filmmakers, all of whom have a particular take on the issues on both Asia’s nature and culture. In addition, there will also be web-based information available from this project featuring the presentations that have been made here, and information about relevant programs and publications. All of this is due to a grant of the Erpf Fund. Sue Erpf Van de Bovenkamp couldn’t be with us tonight but we are extremely grateful for the support they have provided which will unfold over ten years.
The third reason why it’s a pleasure to welcome all of you is that I think this is a topic of utmost importance. For many ways, this program tonight and those that follow would address a cluster of issues that are among the most important and perhaps the least understood in terms of challenges facing Asia. From my point of view, one of the fascinations of Asia is that in many countries, we are seeing living culture; traditions that date back thousands of years that are brought, often in a filtered fashion, into the contemporary world. And we’re talking about monuments and man-made objects, many of which are facing enormous threats. The Asia Society undertook a project several years ago called The Future of Asia’s Past and we’ve had ample illustration what some of the challenges facing Asia’ monuments in just recent months. The destruction of Bamiyan comes to mind. Asia, also in my mind, has been widely heralded for its very rapid economic development in the late twentieth century. And there is much, I suppose, to applaud in all of that. At the same time, much of Asia confronts a tragedy of gargantuan proportions in terms of air pollution, in terms of water pollution and diminishing water supply, in terms of enormous attacks on marine resources and in terms of arable land. And so for all of these reasons, the way in which these challenges are introduced with the cultures of various Asian societies, that’s our subject. In some ways, it’s the question of how to struggle to preserve Asia’s body and soul. Our three panelists and our moderator tonight have been very much involved, in many ways, with the struggle.
And the fourth reason why I’m delightful to welcome you tonight is that the panel consists of three remarkable figures who have been at work in China, Burma, Myanmar, and in the Philippines. I will turn to our moderator tonight, Kirk Talbott, who will introduce each of them. Kirk is the Vice President of the Pacific Division of Conservation International, formerly with the Nature’s Conservancy and with the World Resources Institute. He has written and talked widely on environmental security, environmental law, and on human rights. He’s the author of several books and articles on these subjects. I look forward to this evening’s panel and I would ask all of you, along with me, to welcome our moderator Kirk Talbott.
Thank you very much Bob. I appreciate that introduction. I actually have only written one book and I don’t think I’ll even be able to write another one. It was so difficult to get through that one. We’ll see. It has been a real pleasure and privilege to be associated with the Asia Society. The last couple of years, I’ve been joined by several of my colleagues in the conservation community to work in a very authentic collaborative way with the Society in trying to get critical issues that we’re seeing, those of us who are practitioners, if you will, of development and of the environment. To get our perspectives integrated into the programs of the Society is really to heighten the power of this forum. It’s really marvelous to see you all here tonight and with all the recent events and the reasons to stay at home, to see this many people coming out is terrific.
I just wanted to introduce the speakers and set the framework for tonight’s discussion. I think it’s fair to say that when people talk about the environment, whether it’s in the Asia Pacific or anywhere in the world, you cannot ignore how important politics and economics is. Then the third distant cousin that’s often mentioned is the social realm.
But tonight I think this great. For the first of this series of talks that we are looking right at culture and here is Asia Society being on the cutting edge of looking at the nexus between culture and environment. We couldn't be better served tonight than we are with the three panelists we have with very different backgrounds, but are all certainly working on that nexus, on the cutting edge of linking their actions, their contribution to our global society with the issues of culture that are universal. Since we only have a little bit more than an hour, as is always the case, these society meetings, we are filled with an audience tonight of people who have a great deal of experience and perspectives. It is good to see many friends here. what would be good is that we are going to keep to ten minutes or so. I'm going to try to be organized too, along with Bob, and keep us to just about ten minutes per speaker, which is less than we'd want, and which all the speaker have agreed, but this way we can really engage in some discussion. After each speaker, I will just take a moment and if there's one or two really burning questions, feel free to raise your hand and throw out a question or two and then we'll move on to the second speaker to the third, and then that way, we'll still have several minutes to engage in discussion at the end.
So without further ado, I’ll just introduce our first speaker, Dai Qing who is from China. All of you actually have the bio and I don't think we need to take up our precious time with reading through the bio, but you can tell that this is a person who has been in the leading edge, who's been at the forefront of some of the most contentious, or the center stage, if you will, issue in terms of environment. She's won the prestigious Golden Award for Freedom and she has just a long record behind her. It's a real privilege to have you, Dai Qing, tonight. And why don't you start off with the discussion.
The day before yesterday, China had formally entered the WTO. From now on, formidable and rigid China will completely open its market to the outside world. Within 5-10 years, no need of any war or cold war, only reached that growth in business and trade. The communist ideology, which has held this country for more than hold a century will become nothing but empty words preached by the officials. But China, really a member of the global family, sharing the same standards, having the same sense of human rights and environment, willing to take same responsibility, just like Americans.
Being a member of the WTO, how will the Chinese government behave when they face the two most crucial pressing problems of human rights and environment? I just want to give some words about the human rights issues in China. China has been a kingdom under the central government since Chin dynasty. It means it has lasted over two thousand years. People will argue that right now, in the beginning one had a republic, and now we have People’s Republic, we have law, we have constitution, we have courts, police, we have People’s Congress, and state council, and we have guided missiles, nuclear bombs, and the biggest dams (Three Gorges). How can you call that a kingdom? Since last year, the person who got their positions through arms use all the title which the modern society title always use just like president, chairman, or chief secretary, but actually they just use the modern administration to try to push his own will to this dictator and all the people. Right now, the majority of the Chinese people just think how to keep themselves safe and make more money. So the whole society is still that traditional society.
Even after WTO, the society cannot change immediately, especially when the person in the position are dictators. They're so happy to be there, they try to keep the army for themselves and strictly control the freedom of speech. What will happen then now that China is totally open to the world?
After the WTO, the worst, but the biggest possibility could be the powerful foreign capital which will rush to China will have close cooperation with the communist government, working hand and glove with the corrupt head officials turning a blind eye to the nature of authority. The authority that represses thought and free speech. The authority that controls the troops and the secret police disregard the regulations of the environment and human rights. If the investors can behave like that, it will be very comfortable to get profit because it’s very easy for them to make close friends with the corrupt head officials and escape the supervision and monitoring from the other government departments, the environmentalists, human rights NGOs because nowadays, we don't have these kinds of NGOs. Then in 5-10 years, with the help of the foreign capital, a more powerful military force will appear in the world with depleted natural resources, destroyed environment, terrible gap between the rich an the poor, continued social turmoil and illegal immigration to other countries including NY harbor. This is not a happy future, but if we don’t give enough estimate to the positive side, it could be like that.
I want to tell you one story about me. Right now, I live in Beijing. Do I have my right as a citizen in China. Maybe you all already know about the Three Gorges Project. Besides the central government and right now, they foreign banker, not your American government because in 1994, the American Bureau of Reclamation announced the withdrawal of financial support to the Three Gorges Project . When they announced this decision they said, "If the U.S. government does not want to use our money to destroy our rivers, why should we spend the tax payers money to destroy other persons river?" Then the American government, the World Bank, Export and Import Bank totally withdraw. Right now only Merrill Lynch. and Morgan Stanley is trying to cooperate to support the Chinese government with the Three Gorges Project. They just keep it a secret from all of you.
In the American side, we just support China’s building and something but inside China, we try to raise money for the Three Gorges Project because this is a paid project by the government when promised the government will give Merrill Lynch and all that lots of benefits. So this is exchange.
For me, when I was in Beijing, I just wanted to sue the authority of Three Gorges Project. I’m only one person, a citizen, and I want to sue the Three Gorges construction I wrote my paper and I tried to find a lawyer. The lawyer accepted my case tried to do this. And then the lawyer laughed. "Dai Qing, are you a Chinese? All the years, have you lived in Beijing? Do you happen to know who leads the country? And everything under the leadership of the communist party. No one will accept your paper, so forget it."
I was forced to pay for the project. I was against it but if you live in China, everyone who uses electricity, then you have to pay for the Three Gorges Project. Right now, as the Three Gorges Project is a political project, it’s a red empress pet project so it uses the political way to try to push for its approval in the National Council. Then the central government uses the whole nation’s money to support it. Then in the name of the government, in the name of the whole nation, try to borrow foreign money to support it. So, right now, it is underway and right now the forced resettlement is very dangerous. Then the government uses political power to try to move the people to other provinces in the eastern coast, a rich place. Then force the people in the rich place to welcome them. Settle down here. So everything from the beginning is a political issue.
So we are against it. For the environment, for the human rights, for everything we try to change the political system today in China.
Just such a powerful presentation. I don’t need to add anything because it was so clear. Thank you so much for that. It was really an inspiring and very clear presentation looking at culture and talking about resettlement and every time you turn the electricity on. These are kinds of connection to such an essential environmental issue. Anybody have a question for Dai Qing, just a specific question or point of clarification? Just go ahead.
Were you able to sue the government?
No one wanted to have my case. So I kept writing letters to the National People's Congress. I have this story as the beginning of my letter. The beginning is one of a European journalist who interviewed one of the key officials from the Three Gorges Authority, the journalist asked him what if someday something terrible happened to this project. The official said, "No way! Nothing will happen. It’s a great project." Then the journalist kept asking who will take responsibility if something happens? Who? The representative said the People’s Congress will take responsibility because they got the project approved. This is all on the surface. The power organization. But really, the power is in Jiang Zemin’s hand.
I kept writing letters to the official. The official said: "You will take the responsibility. I will give you some investigation. You’re my independent investigator. I hope you’ll continue to do this." The people want this project. They want the contract. They have several, very very important aspect. They try to lie to you about the whole budget situation, forced resettlements, the feasibility of environment study, every aspect and I mail my evidence. Every year, I mail my letter to it but the response is silence. No one notices me.
Thank you so much. That’s a good question. It’s good to get some new ideas and provocative follow-up. And we’ll have more time in this discussion to link these. Let's go on to our next speaker. Again, you have the bios here so I don’t want to take up time reading it. But Kenny, whom I’ve just met tonight, he works really with an exciting organization, Earth Rights International. I happen to have seen the gestation of Earth Rights when a few young lawyers came out of the University of Virginia with some idealism and came up with the idea and started the first page of an organization. Then you read about them in the International Herald Tribune and their lawsuit against a US corporation and French multinational that were working in Burma. And so it’s great to have a representative from the organization. Kenny brings a whole lot of experience. As you can see, he’s got many years with Green Peace and everyone knows Green Peace as an organization. And people might disagree with their tactics or whatever else but nobody can disagree that their a world leader and have been in terms of environmental activism. He’s also worked for the Multinational Monitor which many policy folks in the country put a great deal of stock in. He has a valuable perspective and thanks for being here Kenny.
Thank you Kirk. First of all, I want to apologize on behalf of Kasawa, who is the co-founder and co-director of the Earth Rights International, who was originally supposed to speak here. Due to a lot of schedule changes after 9/11, he had to be in Thailand now. And he sends his warmest regards and wishes he could be here. I’m afraid, I’m just a pinch hitter for him tonight, which is a difficult job especially if you know him, then you realize it’s a tremendously difficult job but I’ll do my best and I’ll start out by telling you a little bit about him and it leads to how Earth Rights International got started and also the topic which we want to discuss tonight which, in focusing on Burma, a question of environment, human rights, and culture.
Kasawa was a university student in 1988 during the infamous brutal crackdown [in Burma] and after being captured and tortured for several days during that crackdown, he was let go. He was informed they were after him again and he fled Rangoon at that time and hasn’t been able to return since. He spent most if the next decade living on both Thai and Burmese side of the Thai/Burma border documenting human rights violations and environment degradation through literally hundreds of interviews with local villagers, mostly ethnic Karen and Shan. Kasawa is ethnic Karen, the largest ethnic minority in Burma.
His work on the border led to two major developments, at least within this little realm that we’re talking about. One was the founding of the group Earth Rights International when he joined up with two American lawyers, as Kirk said, from the University of Virginia, who were working in Thailand to form the group. They worked out of a tiny little room in Kanchanaburi for no money for several years. They continued on the work Kasawa devoted himself to which was documenting human rights abuses focusing mostly on the border area. That work led to a second fairly momentous event which was that some of the people that Kasawa interviewed in the Tenasserim region in Southern Burma who were victims of the human rights abuse. Their stories led back to two Western companies: Total, a French multinational oil company and Unocal, a California based oil company. Let me interrupt here for a minute to tell you about he project involved. I am not sure how many of you actually know about it, but it’s the Yadana Natural Gas Pipeline project. Total and Unocal are two of the partners. The other partners are the Thai energy company and the Burmese military itself. It was several years of work to come up with this report which is interviews with local people and a number of other things called Total Denial. We had a first report called "Total Denial" and this one Total Denial Continues. I didn’t bring many because it’s very heavy and I had to come on the subway. But I’ll leave a copy for the organizers of this event and if anybody wants a copy, you can contact me. Basically, what this research shows, including personal interviews with dozens of people in the region, is that the Unocal-Total Project was not simply a side event to a series of human rights violations, to a militarization of the area. It was actually the cause of the militarization of the area and the cause of an increase in forced labor, an increase in forced relocation, in torture, even some executions and rape in the region all due to increase military presence. The military committed these atrocities in the Tenasserim region, in the pipeline region were doing so on behalf of the pipeline consortium. So they were doing so on behalf of a US and a French company. When we discovered this connection, through the work in the border region, it led to a lawsuit. Kirk mentioned that we do a lot of legal work. Our tagline is "The power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment"; and we believe in using both. So we have a lawsuit that’s now in California State Court and an appeal in Federal Court in California against Unocal for human rights violations in Burma. And in the federal case, the judge who dismissed it actually wrote that despite the fact that he was dismissing it, that Unocal knew of and benefited from these human rights violations by the Burmese military.
Unocal is the largest investor, largest US investor I should say, but it’s not the only way the US supports the Burmese regime. We also support it through very large amounts of imports of apparel, mostly produced in sweatshop conditions, sometimes even worse than those in China that are a little better known. Burma does not have the size the apparel industry that China does obviously but it does have a sizable industry and it grew by close to 200% from 1999-2000. Even though the US has a sanctions law, which prohibits new investments on the one hand. So the US has a policy of sanctions against Burma for investment but on the other hand, they allow any amount of importation of apparel and other goods as well. The number two import from Burma is teak and that gets very much to the environmental issue because Burma accounts for about (I think Kirk is more of an expert on this than I am) 80% of the world’s teak stands. And even a higher percent or a similar percent, at least, of the world trade in teak. Is that about right?
Until it goes.
At current rate we probably have substantial teak forests for only about a generation or maybe less before there is no substantial teak out there except for the plantations in Indonesia and a few other countries. So the need for the Burmese generals to raise cash for militarization of their country and the repression they engage in causing them not only to build a pipeline, to open as many apparel sweatshops as possible but also to cut down teak trees for both legal and illegal smuggled logs as quickly as they can.
What we believe that the US government and citizens should do is disengage from Burma economically. During the anti-apartheid campaign, there was a phrase "constructive engagement." And that’s a phrase that we hear now a lot from companies that justify their investments in countries such as Burma, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. The argument is that if American companies go into these places, that by their very presence and sometimes by their programs for schools, clinics and so on that they are bringing jobs and their bringing some kind of democracy to the country. But what we see in this case of Burma is clearly that this is destructive engagement. This is economical engagement which causes more militarization, which causes more destruction of the environment. Just to give you an idea of the corporate view, Unocal, which obviously touts its own investment as a case of constructive engagement was also negotiating with the Taliban to build a gas pipeline through Afghanistan until a couple of years ago.
There is no regime that they will not countenance becoming a partner with. So they were on the verge of becoming business partners with the Taliban and had invited Taliban leaders in Texas to wine and dine them and so forth. I want to make clear that they are not business partners with the Taliban but they were strongly considering it. They have never renounced the idea on the basis of human rights violations or anything like that. They just said it wasn’t feasible. Again, we believe these are cases that not all US business engagements is constructive. And that sometimes, and Burma is certainly one of these cases, is quite destructive both to human rights and the environment. But we in the US can do a few things. First of all, we can pressure Unocal to leave Burma. We can support a bill on both the Senate and the House. In the senate, it’s called 926 and in the House, it’s called 2211. It’s basically a bill to end all imports from Burma as way of increasing the international pressure because international pressure on Burma is working. There are signs they are moving towards more negotiations with the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the ethnic minorities of the country. The other form of pressure is coming from the International Labor Organization which for the first time has asked all its members to examine its policies and relationship with Burma. I just want to conclude, I know I haven’t touched a lot on culture and environment per se but in many countries around the world, Burma is being one of them as well as the US in my opinion, the campaigns for human rights and the environment are basically one and the same. I mean, you can’t, in a place like Burma, what Kasawa discovered and some of our students at the Earth Rights, there you can’t be an advocate for environmental protection without basic civil and political rights. You can’t go in and have protest. You can’t even raise your voice because you could be killed. So you can’t have environment without human rights. And at the same time, you can’t have it the other way around. If don’t have clear water, if you don’t have basic protection, environmental health, then you can’t have your cultural right especially for ethnic minorities who live very close to natural resources. They can’t exercise their human rights without a clean environment nor can they protect the environment without human rights. Those of us in the human rights community, in the environmental world, community level people, consumers, if we all get and stick together, we can’t make a big change in Burma and the rest of Asia for human rights, for the environment, and also for democracy. Thank you.
That’s terrific Bruno and thank you also for keeping to the time. I know its frustrating because we’re dealing with such a broad umbrella of issues but you have, again, been able to pull it together. I think Kasawa would be very proud of the pinch hitting that you did. When Kasaw speaks, it’s very powerful because he’s from the Karen tribe and he’s had this personal suffering and he gets quite emotional, it starts to well up, and is very visceral. Anybody in this room would feel what he’s been through there in the front lines living this. It’s great Bruno that you and so many others with your organization and with the others working around or taking Burma as an issue.
And as you guessed, I am not a Karen. I am not from Burma. I’m from NY.
Ok, our last speaker is Joan Carling. Joan is from the Kankana-ey indigenous group in the Cordillera Mountains of Luzon. This is a place very dear to my heart because I was actually a struggling frustrated young lawyer in the mid 1980s and went to the Philippines to the region very close to where you’re from and got into the environment because of the whole nexus, that Bruno and Dai Qing have just talked about.
So my life drastically changed from a month trip walking through the Cordillera of the Philippines where Joan is to take us through. I’m just going to mention one thing about a case in law school the esteemed Oliver Wendell Holmes actually wrote the opinion on. It was the first decade of the last century. In this case, he set international precedent in law in which he recognized that if people had been living in certain areas with documented proof since time immemorial (indigenous people), that their rights, in US law in US courts, would be recognized preceding, overcoming the rights of the people who come after them including the ancestors of Magellan. Very, very powerful. And a lot of the Philippines is now standing at the forefront of the world with some of the most positive and constructive legislation on ancestral domain linking human rights society and the environment. So we’re really glad for you to round out the discussion tonight. You also can read about Joan’s quite extensive background. She has more than 10 years with the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. She is really on the frontlines. We’re very privileged to have here Joan. So, take it away. We’ll give you a couple of extra minutes since you brought the slides.
Couldn’t be better. We have just a little over twenty minutes so let’s really just make the most of it. I’m sure each of the panelists will be staying for a little bit for the reception. I’m the moderator and I find myself in a different position. We have some activists here who have really put themselves on the line. I actually work for Conservation International that works with businesses a lot and really is not on the spectrum over there with the Green Peaces of the world. We’re trying to engage the business community, governments, and others in an effective way. But we’re challenged everyday with how you deal with the nexus of issues. And it really comes down to the economics. Would you agree that economics drive a lot of the politics-the force we’ve heard about the power of the money here, put it into a NY context. And behind the Three Gorges, behind some of the big operations in Burma that Bruno talked about and the many companies coming in here. How do we address the environmental issues that relate to culture, the theme tonight--which are people on the ground for feeding themselves for education.
I just want to ask one question and to throw it out. Nobody needs to really respond to it. But there’s a little bit of a joke about the 3 types of dam. There are good dams, bad dams and there’s the cuss word dam. And the idea there is there in fact good dams? And it’s hard to argue as an adult, in a world with electricity that all dams are bad. We can’t really argue that, get in a car and leave here tonight. Maybe if a bicycle. The fact is, the world is changing and we need to work with the forces of development. We have to be effective. And I would like to encourage people to ask questions now of the panel and let’s talk about what we do and connect it to your own lives, to your own cultures.
Question and Answer Session
I have three questions concerning China.
Can you introduce yourself?
Robert Ladely The first question concerns the Three Gorges dam and I’m wondering after 9/11 if this is considered to be perhaps a hostage to the terrorists. I wonder if the Egyptians are thinking the same way about the Aswan dam. The second question is, I have read that a much better approach to dams in China might not be the Three Gorges Dam but a number of smaller dams on the tributaries which would mean much less than the way of displacement of people yet give the same end result. The third question concerns pollution in China and economic growth. The pollution in many parts of China and many parts of Asia is totally appalling. Let’s face it, people pollute. The more people, the more pollution. And the more people, the you must have economic growth if you are going to have a stable society. With regards to China, you have to have electricity. The power plants and pollution is appalling. Now, in terms of unhappy alternatives, is a dam a better way to generate electricity or more polluting stations. So I have three questions, if you could be kind enough to address them.
Why don’t we start with the third one first.
I don’t want to give an outline on the pollution in China but I just want to tell you that recently, the reservoir will save water in 2003. There are only one and a half left. Along the reservoir, is as long as the from Harvard to Yale, this long. And all of the people, factory, hospital, mines and all the residents live many, many hundreds of years. All of the pollutants sink, just will be in the bottom of the reservoir. What about the drinking water? Because the reservoir is the drinking resource for the ordinary people. Nowadays, and because we tried to argue about that, and the central government once again, put one billion US dollars for the treatment of the bottom, to clean the bottom. You see in two years is no way to totally clean it. They only tried to cover something. And the same time, the one billion and they ask some environmental engineering project to try and do the cleaning work. And these just gave the corrupt head officials, to get another chance to get money. I just want to say, right now, it depends on one of the investigations of one of my friends, who is a professor. He has already known that all the officials along the reservoirs, they have already tried to find drinking resources for themselves and the remaining dirty water is for the ordinary people. So, it’s terrible pollution. And if you go along Yangtze, you will see. When I was young, it was a very clean river. We were proud of the river. But now, in China, everybody knows the Yangtze has already become the second Yellow river. The water is yellow with sedimentation.
Can you just, because I don’t want it peppered around, can you indulge me just so that we can get some other questions for some of the other panels. Your first question was about, if I understand it, is there security issues at the Three Gorges now as with the Aswan in the aftermath. Is that your question sir? Can you respond to that if you think there are security issues on the stage now that didn’t exist before 9/11.
At the beginning, some of our opponents, we try to suggest, me, I’m totally against the dam but some people think that if we really need hydroelectric power station, shall we, have upstream first then tributary first. But the central government totally refused because the smaller the dam, the money gets less, and the corrupt head officials gets less. This is why, politically, they want a huge project, to show how proud the socialist system is and then economically, they just want the bigger and so they can get more money from it. But even in the tributary, right now, there are two other hydroelectric power stations is a little bit downstream in the Three Gorges, called the Gejiu Dam project. Another one, in the tributary, is of the Yangtze called the Ertan dam project. Both of them is already built but right now, has no way to sell their electricity generation because the price is too high. So, the World Bank, the financial support is very difficult for it to get its money back. And the first question. I really want to answer the first question. You see, when I left for here, my first stop is Seattle. Many of my friends and relatives tried to stop me. They said, Dai Qing, how can you go to this kind of place in this kind of time? I have no words to answer them but I make my decision. I must go, I must go in this place during the special time with you. Because I think why you were attacked but not me? I think this is because not us, we are not good enough to be attacked by the evil terrorists. We never tried to stand in the front line against the evil things. We never use our money try to work and fight for other peoples’ happiness. We never show our concern to other persons environment and human rights. This is because you are good, you are so good and then you are attacked. So I made my decision. So, I just want to respond to this gentleman’s question. This is my honor to be with you in a special time. Even when JFK yesterday. Thank you.
I don’t know if that’s the answer that you expected to the first question but it was also inherent in your question was the issue of alternatives with coal being as difficult it is in terms of the pollution. What would you respond, just quickly, to the issue of coal as being bad, people in Japan are complaining a lot about the clouds coming over, and the coal is very high sulfur, and it’s a big environmental global problem and dams and hydroelectric is an alternative. Of course there’s nuclear as well which many countries are debating. So the balance there, of the good dams and the bad dams is…
In my opinion, no good dam. Every time people build a dam and destroy a river. If in your or the next generation the river is still flowing but the next you will destroy the our descendants future but will just get benefit in our time. So I am totally against the dam.
Ok. There we have a definitive answer. Can we another question? Please stand up identify your name and also who you are with if you are comfortable doing that since we have an opened society here.
I noticed here that a Japanese banking corporation is behind this particular dam project and if I am not mistaken, Japan is a major importer of teak.
And also a supporter of dams in Burma.
I see. I just wanted that addressed, the role of Japan and the exploitatation of teak.
Actually, Japan is now a growing, getting more into supporting extraction of resources in other parts of Asia. They’re very much into supporting dam projects and that’s not only in the Philippines but also in Burma, in Thailand, in Indonesia and maybe even China later. So that’s why we are now forming this network, the South East Asia network against the I 4-Rivers, Rivers Watch , South and South East Asia Network in order for us to collaborate and launch a strong lobby against Japanese funding to large dams.
Very good. Bruno, do want to follow?
Yes. I have focused earlier, in my talk, on what the US involvement or investments in Burma but it is true and some people argue, well even if the US pulled out of all economic ties to Burma there would still be Malaysia, Japan and a few others investing and that is true. I mean I focused on it because I am an American and most of my audiences are American and that’s what we can do here. But at the same time, it is true that we have to look at other countries. My organization now has a new website in Japanese. So we are trying to link up with activists in Japan who will raise some consciousness about the fact that Japanese banks are financing some of the most destructive dam projects in Burma and also helping to prop up the regime there. And so, I just think there’s no simple answer but we need to link up the activism. And in any of these questions whether a dam is good or bad, whose going to finance it, I think Joan Carling had the simple answer. Maybe its not so simple but the beautiful answer which is that the development that we all point to, saying we must have development, we must have economic growth, we must have jobs, we have a right to development. Well yes that’s true, but the right to development must be first of all, not violate the right to self determination of the local people. We can’t make a decision in the US or Japan that says this is an environmentally sound dam because we are using X, Y and Z technology. No. We have to look at what the local people want and respect their right to say yes or no to a dam or mining project or something else.
That’s terrific. All politics is local and I think that where it really brings culture in. Because the more local lives you go down to, from the provincial to the district to the village to the family unit and that’s where the power is in a lot of the discussions we heard and the hope for the future. Can we have another question from anybody? We definitely have time for a couple more.
Mimi O’ Hagan. Mr. Bruno, you had suggested the corporation should be more involved in boycotting Burma and our activities. I’m wondering how you feel about groups individually or collectively as tourists and travelers going to Burma? Does that support the military and bring more money into their economy that way?
Well, I would cede to Aung San Suu Kyi, who has discouraged us from going to Burma as tourists. She is the Nobel Prize Winning leader for the National League for Democracy which was the government elected in 1990 but the Burmese military did not allow them to take power. She’s been under house arrest now for six or seven years. Maybe Maureen could help me here for the exact number. Anyway, she’s highly respected, the recognized leader of the democracy movement in Burma and she has said that we should use our democracy to promote democracy in Burma. One of the things she has asked for is not to go to Burma as tourists.
Josh, you're next.
I am deeply depressed by tonight’s presentations because they have shown that we can have in a nominal democracy like the Philippines, a communist dictatorship like China and a military government as in Myanmar, a commonality of themes that is both shocking and also just draws me to ask the question, how important are the governments overall? Individually, there’s no doubt that we can point fingers at individual actions. Governments, you go up the Hudson River to about 120 miles and they’re building a power plant that would be able to show that all politics is not local because a strong local sentiment is against the plan. How much of this is being driven by forces that are large scale, I think Kirk brought up the economic forces and nobody picked up on that. So, I want to try and go at it from a different angle. All politics is local, but local people don’t have much power in this world and so how do we get around that?
Great question. Thank You, Josh. I was trying to provoke that myself a little bit. So who in the panel would like to respond? Do you want to start Joan, just in terms of how we address the economic major forces out there effectively for whether its conservation or Human Rights. Is that fair enough Josh?
I think, I would just reflect back on what we are actually doing. Our work is basically actually building local capacity so that people can assert their rights at various levels where they are mostly affected. One example that is a bit successful in our experience, in the case of Mountain Province, it’s one province that’s full of mining applications and the various affected communities there are against it. So we asked them if that’s what they think they should lobby their local government not to allow these mining companies and that’s what they did. All the peoples' organization in that province submitted petitions, resolutions, asking their local government not to allow these mining companies and threatening their local government that they’re going to allow the entry of these multinational companies, the people will be against them. So, even if the representative of Congress from that district was more or less pro-mining, he was forced to sign a resolution of the whole provincial government. A resolution saying that a multinational companies are not allowed to mine in the province of Mountain Province. So that’s in a way, an exercise of the collective strength of the community in making their local government more sensitive to the concerns that they are raising and I think that would not have happened if the people just didn’t do anything about this. If they did have any kind of collective action in making their own opinion known to government officials.
But I do agree that in terms of the national politics, the economy has a strong reason for how the national government makes position. In the case of the Philippines, we have always been dependent on foreign investment. We’ve always been dependent on overseas development aid. So it’s already a cycle within our economy that if you try to break that out, your economy will collapse. But at the same time, if you continue with it, it will also collapse. We are already in a no win situation so what’s being done now is that the politicians are just making money out of this kind of in-placed economic system. With the crisis even, what’s now becoming the money making venture are criminal activities because the economy is down, they cannot make much profit from engaging with companies or making investments into wherever. But they are now engaged in illegal drugs, gambling, all these sources to make more money and somehow keep a part of the economy still moving but the basics of the economic foundation of the country is completely not there. So, unless you build the foundations of the national economy that will be self sustaining and independent, then it will always be part of this whole globalized economy that everyone of us will be upon the dictates of all these multinational companies, the World Bank, the IMF and….I don’t know if I’ve responded to your question.
That’s a penetrating question. There’s a lot of discussion on that. Does either of you want to respond anymore to Josh’s question?
Well, now I’m depressed because I never want to come out and give a talk that makes people depressed. Our aim should be to inspire people. While, I don’t think any of us can honestly say you are wrong, or contradict you, there are obviously a lot in what you have pointed out, the hope is there. I believe that the hope is in the tremendous movements that we have seen flourishing since Seattle. I don’t know if a lot of other people see Seattle as a watershed event in that way but I do because Seattle was a coming together of various movements who share, though there may be contradictions between those movements, a desire to raise human rights, environment, culture and social rights above the emphasis on economic development. It’s true that those forces do not have all the power in the world now but they’re building links from country to country. In January will be the Second annual World Social Forum and they expect 50,000 people from 150 or so countries to come together. And that’s the alternative to the World Economic Forum which is CEOs, and heads of states and ministers and so on that get together to plot their view of the future. So I think there’s tremendous hope if you join the movement. If you sit back and watch, you get depressed but if you actually teach young people and are involved with young people, who are realizing that hey, we can advocate for environmental rights, for human rights, for the right to self determination and the right to our kind of development and you see them go out there and do it. And you begin to hope that their view of the world will be in the ascendancy. I really believe that. Because I see that in our schools, we have human rights and I see it on the streets and I think it’s happening.
Dai Qing, did you want to any last response?
Dai Qing I just want to say two true story. When the foreign people involved either for or against the Three Gorges Project, what will happen? One case, just a few months ago, some refugees from the forced settlements went to Beijing to have a very peaceful gathering to show their petition to the central government because of the budget. The forced settlements have more than third of the money. And the calculation is that the central government promised to give everyone of the forced resettlements 40,000 Yuan but they actually get just less than 7,000 or less than one fourth. So they went to Beijing. But right now, in China, the Communist Party has a propaganda department. It controls all of the media. So the propaganda department ordered every journalist, every publishing house, magazine, don’t touch Three Gorges project! So the peasants have no way to show their petitions to foreigners. So, I was the one who tried to make arrangements for them to see CNN and NY Times correspondents in Beijing. Now, they were arrested. The crime was that they contacted foreign journalists. One of them has a three-year sentence. Another has a one-year sentence. So, they have no way to let the foreign journalists know what they have to show because once the foreign journalist gets in touch with them, the police arrive. This is one story.
Another story is someone who wants to support the Three Gorges Project. I forgot this gentleman’s name but we’ll call him George. All the years, he tried to sell the very expensive alcohol to China. Right now, the corrupt officials, when they have dinner, OX whiskey are guzzled. George got so rich. He sold the alcohol in Hong Kong and then some Chinese smuggled all the very expensive alcohol into China. But George feels bad. One day, when the person in charge with the forced resettlement tried to raise money from the foreigner and George said, "Yeah, maybe I want to give some money." And the official tried to fix it. So George said, "I want to see Three Gorges first. And then I will make up my mind". George, a Jewish gentleman, maybe in his seventies had a very bad experience. When he arrived, Three Gorges, and the local officials organized all the peasants just to stand on the foot, along the bank, stand there. When the boat passed by, thousands of people yelled, we love you, and then George gave his money, to try to have an orange garden and tried to offer orange seedling for the peasants but then his money disappeared. And now, we can’t see anything in the Three Gorges Project.
Please do. Last one.
I think, yes, some of the information is depressing but I think there’s a wonderful, encouraging message and that is from all the speakers in here. It’s peoples’ movements who are protesting and this is what is important and I think this is encouraging, not depressing.
Couldn’t have said it better. We’re three or four minutes overtime and sorry we’re a little late but I wanted to organize three things just to close out here. Bob talked about four reasons why this is a privilege. Well, first is the panel, just as you said, is so terrific. It’s wonderful to be associated with this. Second, there’s special friends, really good questions, all of you, great participation. And third, in the wake of 9/11, it’s wonderful to come together and talk about something else. And thank you all for coming and give a big hand to yourselves for coming out tonight.
On behalf of the Asia Society, I want to thank our distinguished panelists. I know we’ve covered many critical topics and issues in a short time and this is really a beginning. And I want to thank all of you for coming and joining us. We are going to break now for a reception so you can talk to all the panelists individually. We have a survey, if you can take a moment before you leave tonight to fill that out. We look forward to seeing you at future activities. We’re officially open on Saturday, the grand re-opening of Asia Society and we hope that you’ll all visit us again. Thank you very much. We have some booklets here that we’ll put up here as well as in the back table. Thank you!