Last month, I had the opportunity to tour the Three Gorges Dam and to ride the high speed Bullet Train from Wuhan to Guangzhou. Both were amazing to me and they demonstrate without a doubt how the Chinese are capable of managing and executing large complex projects. Granted, these types of projects are not without controversy and some undesired consequences. However, it is my sincere belief the good they create far outweighs their negatives. If man is going to live on this planet in significant numbers with an acceptable standard of living, there will be undeniable impacts.
During the 1930s, the U.S. undertook the then ambitious projects of building a series of dams along the wild and untamed Tennessee River. Under the auspices of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), land was more or less confiscated, people relocated (sometimes by what amounted to force) and entire towns and farms were inundated. The result was intense bad feelings by many of the local inhabitants. However, before the dams, recurring floods drown farms, killed people and cause countless dollars in losses of property. During the more than 70 years since the building of the major TVA dams, these disasters have been avoided. In addition, the cheap and clean electrical power plus the availability of low cost water transportation throughout the Tennessee River Valley has contributed greatly to the region's higher standard of living. For decades, foreign governments from all over the world have wanted to emulate the successes of the TVA.
My point is, despite the short term social costs and perhaps the longer term environmental and archeological impacts, the benefits from managing the Yangtze River will pay untold dividends to generations of Chinese citizens. These dividends come in many forms. Future human suffering and property damage from the river is eliminated. The Chinese electrical grid acquires 22,500 MW of additional clean and inexpensive generation capacity. Consumer products all over China are less expensive due to cheaper and more efficient river transportation. Agriculture throughout the region is benefited because of better irrigation and surface water management.
The high speed bullet train system within China also promises many dividends for those traveling in China. When it comes to high speed travel, China's population is far too large for mass air transport. Therefore, comfortable, fast trains are the alternative for moving large numbers of people long distances. Currently, the ticket prices are relatively high, but hopefully, as time passes, the ticket prices will fall in real terms so more ordinary Chinese can partake in this advancement in transportation.
Finally, a nation that is building things that are impressive and that benefit society gains a sense of pride and positive self image. This is healthy and it gives its citizens inspiration and a tangible reason to be more patriotic. The U.S. used to have such pride, but lately, I am afraid we have lost our taste for building. And, that is a pity.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/node_7078635.htm