By Paul Goble
The Chinese government says that it is prepared to build a 3,000-kilometer-long pipeline to carry water from Russia’s Lake Baikal to farms, industries, and consumers in China, something Moscow officials have suggested they are prepared to consider but that is certain to spark outrage among many Russians.
According to the Chinese plans, the pipeline will extend from the southwestern banks of Baikal through Mongolia, across the Gobi Desert into the Xinjian-Uyghur Autonomous district to Lanzhou, the capital of the Chinese province of Hansu (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=36076). Russian officials say that environmental impact assessments must be completed first.
The optics of the plan have already sparked outrage in both Russia and Mongolia, in the former because of the image of China sucking Russia dry and in the latter because Russian activists and officials have opposed Mongolian dams on tributaries to Baikal on ecological grounds but seem indifferent to what China is doing.
But what is most annoying in both places, the AsiaRussia portal says, is that “the Chinese aren’t afraid of a rejection by Russia: they don’t even allow the possibility for that.” For enough money, Moscow will go along, whatever the consequences for Siberia and the Russian people (asiarussia.ru/blogs/15437/).
There is one indication that even the Chinese may feel they have overplayed their hand by making this announcement. After putting up a map showing the pipeline route on its website on February 17, the Chinese Institute for Water Resources and Hydrological Research took it down and refused to provide copies to Mongol or Russian journalists.
And Vang Khao, the director of that institute, is now saying that it is “too early” to say whether the project will in fact ever be built.