New Delhi: India’s neighbour, China is planning to harness the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river, commonly known as Yarlung Tsangpo in China. Number of projects listed under China’s new five-year plan are going to be built very close to the border of the two nations.

Based on the geographical location, China shares more than 50 prominent watercourses with over 14 neighbouring countries downstream. With such benefits, China can hold back a major amount of water, upto 730 bcm (billion cubic meters) from its neighbouring countries, which can make this move a strategic asset. 

China has always been considered to be a “hydro-hegemon”. The country has a legacy of manipulating the flow of rivers and hydraulic engineering. China’s powerful hydraulic bureaucracy goes back to 1949, when chinese leader Mao Tse-tung came into power and formulated numerous directives to harness rivers and nature. “Nature is an enemy that had to be beaten,” he used to believe. Following Mao Tse-tung’s leadership a diverse range of investments were made into the hydropower sector, mega dams, and water diversion projects.

These facts raise more questions on the latest step by China to build water projects so close to national boundaries. 

Over 56% of the Brahmaputra/Yarlung Tsangpo, which is a trans-Himalayan river, flows in Chinese territory. As the river crosses the Himalayan crestline, it receives annual rainfall of about 2,000-2,100 mm, which results in swelling of the river line while entering India. Data suggests that annual outflow of Yarlung Tsangpo from China is less than that from India’s Brahmaputra. So, it is safe to conclude that India has ample water on its side to harness.

One aspect to be concerned over is the Northeast region’s water supply which can get somehow affected by this decision. 

China’s upstream position is a reality, but its dominance on the Brahmaputra is overstated. It’s time to de-emphasise China’s hydro-hegemony. Pursuing a more meaningful water dialogue on hydrological data-sharing is essential, but India would require building a lower riparian coalition with Bhutan and Bangladesh on the Brahmaputra.





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