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New great wall of China

Beijing, May 20 (Reuters): China completed construction today of the giant Three Gorges Dam wall, a milestone in the world’s largest hydroelectricity project which is also designed to tame the flood-prone Yangtze river.

Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen proposed the project as early as 1918, and Mao Zedong once waxed poetic on his hopes for a “great wall of stone” from which “a smooth lake” would arise among the gorges. Workers and officials marked the completion of the massive wall today, in a ceremony broadcast live on state television.

A brass band played and confetti rained over the site after workers poured the last batch of concrete.

In contrast to the launch of work on the dam in 1997, attended by both then-President Jiang Zemin and then-Premier Li Peng, no top officials attended today’s event.

State media praised the development company’s decision to forego a plan to spend upwards of 1 million yuan ($125,000) on the ceremony and opt instead for a simpler one that cost only hundreds of yuan, saying the move emphasised that the wall’s construction marked only a partial completion of the project.

Officials stressed that although construction of the dam’s main span was now complete, much of the work remained.

“Although the dam is now complete, we still have a long way to go and cannot become self-satisfied or relax our efforts in the least,” Li Yongan, general manager of the Three Gorges Project Development Corp, said at the ceremony. “We need to continue to put quality and safety first,” Li said.

To that end, the company has asked two German engineering firms to help design a hoist mechanism to lift ships, the Xinhua news agency reported. “The introduction of foreign cooperation in the project designing is aimed at safety guarantee,” Xinhua cited Li as saying.

Xinhua said this would be the first part of the project’s design for which China has enlisted foreign help.

The official China Daily in an editorial called for people to remember the more than 100 people who died during the dam's construction, as well as the 1.3 million people facing relocation to make way for the dam's reservoir.

“The best possible way to repay such a debt of gratitude is to make sure the highest safety and quality standards are observed up till the very end of the entire building process,” the editorial said.

One of the dam’s main functions is to tame the Yangtze’s floods, which have drowned countless thousands over the centuries. But the $25 billion project, which has become a symbol of China’s rising power and technological prowess, has been mired in controversy for its environmental impact and its effect on so many people from its conception.

Even when the parliament approved the project in 1992, nearly half of its members voted against the measure ' a rare show of opposition in the one-party state.

Many environmentalists say the dam’s reservoir, which will reach a depth of 156 metres by October, will become a cesspool of sewage and industrial pollutants and that the creation of such a huge artificial body of water could have unforeseen ecological effects.

Critics also decry the social impact of forcing so many people to leave their homes, as well as corruption they say has kept some of the 25 billion yuan in funds set aside for resettlement from getting to its intended recipients.

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