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China’s New Green Debate: Saving the Planet vs Saving the Planet

Authorities say building a dam across China’s biggest freshwater lake will help the country adapt to climate change. Environmentalists say it will threaten the ecosystem

Cars drive along a flooded road on the banks of Poyang Lake after rainfall on June 6.

Cars drive along a flooded road on the banks of Poyang Lake after rainfall on June 6.

Photographer: Ma Gang/VCG/Getty Images

China’s largest freshwater lake has become the center of controversy after the local government revived a plan to build a dam across it, a project shelved six years ago after environmental protests. Now the developers say they have a new reason to build the barrier — helping the environment.

Three times the size of London, Poyang Lake is one of the nation’s most important wetlands, and the revived battle between authorities and protest groups raises the question of whether provincial governments are using Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s call for an “ecological civilization” to repackage development projects and sell them as benefitting nature.