China's Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River, the world's largest hydropower project, shows the nation at its most powerful, but also makes it vulnerable in entirely new ways.
For the past nearly two decades, during design and construction of the dam, planners have engaged in a low-key effort to make sure it is protected from hostile forces -- whether terrorists or nations at war with China.
The measures they have come up with range from building an extra-solid structure, to posting elite paramilitary troops in the immediate vicinity of the dam and, if all else fails, quickly emptying the reservoir.
"The security of the dam, and in particular protection against terrorist attack, is something we take very, very seriously," said Cao Guangjing (
"We paid special attention to preparation against military attack in the preliminary design phase of the dam," he said.
The spirit of immense confidence and pride that permeates the entire Three Gorges project also affects most engineers' attitude towards the idea of an attack on the 2.3km-long dam.
"Nothing will happen," said Feng Zhengpeng (馮正鵬), director of hydropower complex management. "China is rising and I'm not afraid any nation will attack."
That may be, but history shows dams are tempting targets in war.
In its 2004 report to US Congress on China's military power, the Pentagon also suggested that an attack on the dam might be one of Taiwan's options in case of war with China.
"Since [Taiwan] cannot match Beijing's ability to field offensive systems, proponents of strikes against the mainland apparently hope that merely presenting credible threats to China's urban population or high-value targets, such as the Three Gorges Dam, will deter Chinese military coercion," it said.
In one of the more obvious signals of China's security precautions, a detachment of the paramilitary People's Armed Police is kept just next to the dam.
"What you can actually see is just one piece of the effort," Cao said. "We have emergency plans to cope with all possible eventualities."
According to earlier reports in the state media, China has deployed military helicopters, patrol boats, armored vehicles and bomb disposal units near the project.
China has conducted several rounds of anti-terrorist exercises in the area, including one that simulated an assault with a boat brimming with explosives.
The dam is robustly built, and officials say it will be able to withstand any conventional attack. The worst-case scenario would be an assault with a nuclear weapon. In that case, Cao said China has only one option.
"If there's a nuclear attack, the main procedure will be to draw down the whole reservoir," Cao said. "The Three Gorges dam is equipped with sufficient flood discharge capacity.
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