Yunnan is rapidly industrializing, and in accordance with official policy, agribusiness is dramatically expanding, so the need for more water has intensified. According to expert sources, diverting water to central Yunnan is inextricably linked to the Longpan dam, and linked to this could be the relocation of many thousands of people, most likely Tibetan and Naxi farmers. This was specified in the original project and successfully challenged by environmentalists. Chinese writer Liu Jianqiang wrote the influential article for Southern Weekend, and later said: “The plan for the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam estimated that 100,000 people would need to be relocated. When these people were moved, they wouldn’t be able to find land as good as that they had been farming. Once-prosperous villages would sink into poverty. Moreover, our report confirmed two important points. First, construction work on the Jinanqiao hydropower station was unlawful. Second, the 100,000 local people hadn’t been informed about what would happen to them, and were categorically opposed to being resettled.”
The original article breaking the news states the following: “The Jinsha River will flood from the Tiger Leaping Gorge to the 200 km upstream of the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The inundation area includes Longyan Township, Shigu Town, Jinzhuang Township, Judian Town, Tacheng Township, Lijiang City, Yulong Naxi Autonomous County (formerly Lijiang County), and Tiger Leaping Gorge in Shangri-La County (formerly Zhongdian County) of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Towns, Jinjiang Town, Shangjiang Township, Wujing Township, Nixi Township, Tacheng Township of Weixi Yi Autonomous County and Tujiao Township and Benzilan Township of Deqin County, about 100,000 people will be migrated.”
Various sources indicate that now that the project is prioritized, the same number of people will be displaced for construction of Longpan, particularly as it involves the inundation of settled farmland. In a paper in 2014, Chinese scientist An Shenyi wrote: “Located in the mouth of the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, Longpan Reservoir is the leading reservoir of the 17 cascade hydropower stations in the Yangtze River. It is the best water source for water diversion in the central Yunnan Province. Its comprehensive social and economic benefits are outstanding and irreplaceable. It is necessary to immigrate 100,000 people. The Suizhong water transfer plan is closely related to the Longpan hydropower station. The article studies show that the Longpan hydropower station is the best solution for water transfer in Suizhong.”
An Shenyi offers an unconvincingly positive view of the future for those will be displaced, although it is by no means clear where they will go. A further Chinese source notes that “ethnic minorities” will make up 70 percent of those displaced. The number of Tibetans who may be relocated, compared to other “ethnic minorities” such as Naxi and Yili living in the area, could not be confirmed. In its listing on Longpan, the Chinese online encyclopedia Baidu referred to the resettlement, stating: “If the dam site of the reservoir area is selected in Longpan, it will force 100,000 people to migrate in the upper reaches of the Jinsha River, causing 200,000 mu of arable land to be inundated.”
A lower estimate of those to be displaced due to Longpan’s construction was given in an academic paper from 2008 found online by Wang Dechuan of the Southwest Forestry Academy. This paper, a master’s thesis published on the official website of the Forestry Academy, stated that 89,100 people would be displaced by the dam and associated construction. Of this total, 46,400 would be from Yulong Naxi Autonomous County in Yunnan and 42,700 from Dechen (Ch: Diqing) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture also in Yunnan. More than 70% of those displaced would be “ethnic minorities” according to the paper, published on May 1, 2008, with 29,500 Naxi people, 24,100 Han Chinese, 18,500 Yili, and 7,800 Tibetans.
One commentator, writing for the Inter Press News Service in 2008, said that the new Longpan dam could “result in the displacement of less people—an estimated 20,000 mainly minority people—than the original plan for the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam.”
In China, hydropower projects have displaced millions of people, and numerous reports testify to the ongoing poverty of those relocated. Across Tibet, tens of thousands of Tibetan nomads have been settled despite a growing scientific consensus in China and beyond that indigenous stewardship and herd mobility are essential to the health of the high plateau and help mitigate climate change. The role of Tibetans, particularly nomads, in preserving the land and its wildlife, and the need for their free movement, has been recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and international conservation body the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), particularly during discussion in 2017 over the status of the Hoh Xil nature reserve, which adjoins the Changthang in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
A harsh announcement by the Sichuan People’s Government of the Mengdigou (Xiaomendigou) hydropower station between two Tibetan autonomous counties in Sichuan made it very clear that no opposition to displacement and resettlement is possible and that local people have no choice but to comply with the government’s orders. Announcing the construction of the hydropower station at Gyazur (Jiulong) County, Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) and Muli Tibetan Autonomous County in Sichuan Province, the Kardze prefectural authorities said in a notice that: “From June 21, 2010, new construction projects and immigrant populations are prohibited in the reservoir inundation area and hub construction area of Xiaomendigou Hydropower Station.
The notice even referred to those returning from prison sentences and “re-education through labor,” saying that those who had been resident in the area previously would not be able to return home to the land requisitioned for the dam. It also stated that population growth would be “strictly implemented in accordance with the Sichuan Family Planning Policy.”
In a rare admission, official sources stated last month that more than 58,000 people have been relocated as a result of hydropower projects in Qinghai Province, according to the Haihe River Water Conservancy Commission (it is not known how many were Tibetans, other minorities, or Chinese.) The article, dated April 25, 2019, stated: “By 2018, the central government has accumulatively approved 61,276 rural resettlement population indicators for large and medium-sized reservoirs in Qinghai Province. Qinghai Province has [relocated] 58,177 people, and has distributed a total of 399 million yuan of direct subsidies for immigrants.” Official sources refer to relocation connected to another hydropower project in Tibet, Lawa, in the upper reaches of the Drichu. The creation of a reservoir will affect four counties, 10 township, and 32 administrative villages, according to the National Development and Reform Commission. The same source specifies that the project will “need to relocate a total of 598 people from the Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan.
Nearly 2,000 people were due to be displaced by the construction of the Ya Gen power station in Nyagchu (Yajiang) County, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province (the Tibetan area of Kham). This hydropower plant is being built over the Yarlung Tsangpo, the upper stream of the Brahmaputra before it flows into Arunachal Pradesh, India. Kardze Daily reported on July 7, 2015, that: “1796 people will be resettled, two towns and one religious activity site will be relocated, and there will be no centralized resettlement sites.” No further details are immediately available about the extent of the relocation, but an earlier official source stated that the project was due to be completed by 2017.
Relocation and resettlement is also specified with regard to the construction of Xu Long Hydropower Station over the Drichu River in Yangla Township, Dechen (Diqing) County, Dechen TAP in Yunnan Province, close to the border with Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The National Development and Reform Commission approved the “Jinsha River Upstream Hydropower Planning Report” in 2012, and on Nov. 28, 2018, a state media report stated: “Relevant resettlement planning and other urgent matters will strengthen cooperation and promote the early approval of the project.”