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China seeks foreign checks of dam project

Chinese leaders called for international inspections of construction at the Three Gorges Dam, their first public note of concern over a project critics say will cause massive environmental damage.

Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji toured the construction site on the Yangtze River in central China, warning workers that any negligence in building the huge hydroelectric project could cause disaster, state-run media reported Thursday.

"The responsibility on your shoulders is heavier than a mountain. Any carelessness or negligence will bring disaster to our future generations and cause irretrievable losses," Zhu said.

Zhu's remarks, printed by the state-run Xinhua News Agency and major newspapers, were the first explicit official expression of concern about the project. Critics say it will badly damage the environment while doing little to control flooding.

When necessary, China plans to invite top international engineering companies to inspect the dam and monitor the construction, Zhu said, according to the news agency.

The $25-billion dam, east of the central city of Chongqing, is intended to control flooding along the Yangtze and supply much-needed power for economic development. Reports by experts who have toured the region say the endeavor has been plagued by widespread popular resistance and corruption.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, brushed off suggestions that China's decision to have international inspection of the dam was caused by a lack of confidence in its inspectors.

"We would like to adopt international standards in monitoring projects," he said. "I think this is a good thing."

This week, the government launched a campaign to emphasize better quality construction and curb rampant graft that has contributed to numerous building, road and bridge collapses.