Official doubts but will mindset change?
Economically driven priorities still present formidable hurdle, dam activist says
Beijing's change in attitude towards the Three Gorges Dam project will win it political points, but the dilemma between the hydropower project's economic benefits and environmental costs remains.
And whether the change in attitude at the top can transform the mindset of economically driven local officials is a big question.
Prominent environmentalist Wu Dengming , who devoted more than a decade to fighting the project, said many people would join him in applauding the leaders for openly acknowledging some of the dam's problems.
'It's very good, very brave, a huge political step taken in the right direction,' the president of the Green Volunteer League of Chongqing said.
'It raises hope to see our leaders making a stand for the entire nation's interests, following the global trend of raising environmental awareness and bravely raising the issues left by their predecessors.
'Until today the central government and local officials had been trying to dodge any open debate on the dam's environmental issues. They suppressed our every effort to raise public awareness and discussion.'
Mr Wu said that as recently as 2003, the city and party leadership of Chongqing had harshly criticised, warned and threatened him after he was interviewed by a United States-based newspaper.
'In that interview I said exactly the same thing that Premier Wen Jiabao said today - we must face the problems and start taking measures to repair the dam's environmental damage before it is too late,' he said. Mr Wu said he was feeling more confident about his course of action now the central government had clarified its thinking on the dam's problems.
'Now I can quote the top leaders when dealing with local government officials who, I hope, will change their attitudes,' he said.
Changjiang Hydraulic Research Institute senior engineer Gao Jin said serious problems since the dam began to fill last year had forced the government's rethink.
'Massive landslides, rapid spreading of algae, drinking water crises in nearby villages and townships are things that can no longer be covered up,' he said.
Meanwhile, the mainland will encourage investment in pollution-control projects to help meet environmental goals, according to an environmental policy blueprint provisionally approved yesterday.
The State Council approved in principle a five-year environmental protection plan that sets out guidelines, major tasks and measures for the government to tackle pollution by accelerating economic restructuring to create an industrial system that will aid resource conservation and environmental protection.
116 villages flooded
Problems and dangers:
Erosion of surrounding hillsides
Landslides causing huge waves and damage
Conflicts over land
Loss of fish stocks
Reduced fertility in downstream farmland