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lomatic clout from the government, participating in dam-development initiatives around
the world, from Southeast Asia to Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa?
ThecontrastbetweentheLancangandNuprojects—the formerbeguninthelate1980sand
the latter mired in controversy for more than a decade now—highlights the increasingly
important role played by international conservation organizations in contemporary China.
The Lancang River dam projects were well under way before many international conserva-
tion organizations were operating in China. The Nu River projects have become a rallying
point for both domestic and international conservation organizations, who use science and
advocacy to protect the ecologically sensitive areas of northwest Yunnan.
The creation of nature reserves is now the key strategy used by the central government
in biodiversity-conservation efforts; it is also a lever through which environmental NGOs
seek to influence government policy. China's policy framework for protected areas, which
borrows explicitly from global conservation models, has come to represent a key point
of friction between environmental-protection efforts and development initiatives. Govern-
ment agencies at various administrative levels currently manage more than 2,000 nature
reserves throughout China, with a total land area of more than 100 million hectares, nearly
one-tenth of the nation's territory (Xu and Melick 2007; Coggins 2003). Northwest Yun-
nan is a veritable mosaic of conservation efforts involving government agencies as well as
prominent international organizations. The central government established the Gaoligong-
shan Nature Reserve in 1986, and UNESCO layered the Three Parallel Rivers World Her-
itage Area on top of it in 2003, setting aside fifteen protected areas in eight clusters total-
ing nearly 1.7 million hectares (UNEP 2009). However, UNESCO's financial investment
in the area is quite minimal, and day-to-day management of the protected areas is overseen
by prefectural and county government agencies; these cash-strapped agencies often rely on
tourism revenue to support conservation activities (Grumbine 2010).
According to one UNESCO document, “the 1.7 million hectare site features sections of
the upper reaches of three of the great rivers of Asia: the Yangtze (Jinsha), Mekong (Lan-
cang) and Salween (Nu River) run roughly parallel, north to south, through steep gorges
which, in places, are 3,000 m deep and are bordered by glaciated peaks more than 6,000 m
high” (2003:1). After the approval of the thirteen-dam cascade project was first announced
for the Nu River, the UN World Heritage Committee issued a warning to the Chinese gov-
ernment to express its “gravest concerns on the impacts that the proposed construction
of dams could have on the outstanding universal value of this World Heritage property”
(2004:1). In response, the Yunnan provincial government stated that the World Heritage
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