Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

The Future of Asia's Nature and Culture

Buddhist temples in Laos at 4:49AM. (mrlob/Flickr)

Buddhist temples in Laos at 4:49AM. (mrlob/Flickr)

Dai Qing
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.

Kirk Talbott
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.

Dai Qing
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.

Kirk Talbott
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…

Dai Qing
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.

Kirk Talbott
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.

Question
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.

Kelly Bruno
And also a supporter of dams in Burma.

Question
I see. I just wanted that addressed, the role of Japan and the exploitatation of teak.

Joan Carling
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.

Kirk Talbott
Very good. Bruno, do want to follow?

Kelly Bruno
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.

Kirk Talbott
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.

Question
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?

Kelly Bruno
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.

Kirk Talbott
Josh, you're next.

Question
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?

Kirk Talbott
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?

Joan Carling
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.

Kirk Talbott
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?

Kelly Bruno
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.

Kirk Talbott
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.

Kirk Talbott
Please do. Last one.

Question
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.

Kirk Talbott
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.

Linden Chubin
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!