Project engineer launches fierce tirade against bad press

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am

Beijing's well-organised counter-attacks against a landslide of media criticism over the Three Gorges Dam in the past weeks reached new heights yesterday.

At a government briefing on controversies surrounding the project, top officials in charge repeated the official line to quell mounting concerns.

Pan Jiazheng , an engineer who had been heavily involved in the project, stole the limelight at the face-saving show by firing the bluntest attacks yet against the western media.

'I've noticed some media journalists had a deep bias against China recently,' said Professor Pan, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. 'You've never mentioned China's contribution or achievements, but have gone on at great lengths talking about the dark side or problems existing in China.'

He went on to accuse recent western media reports of exaggerating the problems of the dam and alleged that some reports were groundless.

'Don't describe a kitten as a tiger,' he said.

Analysts were quick to say that Professor Pan's remarks were only his personal views.

However, they noted that the presence of the 80-year-old pro-government academic seemed a well-planned move to help voice the authorities' dissatisfaction with the intense media scrutiny.

The Three Gorges Dam managed to win approval, thanks to the backing of then premier Li Peng , despite fierce opposition and media outcry.

Authorities have taken pains to silence domestic opposition, notably engineers, intellectuals and environmentalists, in the past decade.

But things began to change subtly when President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao took power five years ago. When none of the nine-strong Politburo's Standing Committee made it to a grand ceremony marking a test run of the project in June last year, many began to talk about a watershed in the leadership's attitude to the project.

Such speculation peaked when Xinhua in September quoted Wang Xiaofeng , director of the State Council's Three Gorges Project Construction Committee Executive Office, talking about the project's threats. 'We absolutely cannot sacrifice our environment in exchange for temporary economic prosperity.'

Although officials have since denied the report, the moment was significant as it was rare for an incumbent official to admit the huge impacts of the project.

But Mr Wang was not alone. Former water resources minister Wang Shucheng said shortly before his retirement early this year that he also had reservations about the project.

The State Council Information Office is holding a foreign media tour of the dam area tomorrow to ease international concerns.


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