China says Yarlung Tsangpo super dam will give opportunity for Sino-India cooperation, perhaps on its terms?

Yarlung Tsangpo river in Tibet. (Photo courtesy: Xinhua)

(, Dec04’20) – Amid concerns about its environmental and geological impacts as well as potential for use as a hydrological weapon, China has claimed legitimate right to develop the hydropower of Yarlung Tsangpo river in occupied Tibet. However, Chinese foreign ministry has said Dec 3 that his country will stay in touch with India, Bangladesh through existing channels. China has given little information about the dam, which itself remains a source of serious concern.

“Over the years, China has conducted sound cooperation with India and Bangladesh in flood reporting, flood control and disaster reduction, emergency response and other aspects. China will continue to stay in touch with India, Bangladesh through existing channels,” China’s official Dec 3 quoted Hua Chunying, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, as saying.

But of course during the 73-day Doklam border standoff in 2017, China stopped providing such information to India while continuing to do so to Bangladesh.

Nevertheless, the report cited Hu ass saying, China has always taken a responsible attitude toward the development and utilization of cross-border rivers and has implemented a policy of combining development and protection.

She has maintained that any project will be scientifically planned and demonstrated, with full consideration for the impact on the downstream area and the interests of the upstream and downstream.

She has also said, “The development of the project is still in preliminary planning and demonstration phase, and there is no need to read too much into it.”

Meanwhile, Miroslav Marence from the River Basin Development programme of The Netherland-based IHE Delft Institute for Water Education has said the lack of information on the project was worrying.

“To form technical and also scientific opinion, project data is essential. After we have these data, we can speak about influences and impacts – environmental and social. The project looks known in China but without any international knowledge. This makes the project more conspirative,” Dec 3 quoted Marence as saying.

Marence’s “speculation” is that China isn’t sharing project details because it “has big impact”.

The project’s potential to inflict harm on India is huge. Ameya Pratap Singh, doctoral candidate at Oxford University, who has written on “India-China relations and the geopolitics of water”, has said, “From India’s perspective the risks are …flooding, water scarcity, diversion of river water and consequent unrest in the northeast where the administrative control of the state has been historically feeble.”

The new project fits well with China’s turn towards coercive diplomacy and weaponisation of dependence elsewhere, Singh has said, giving the example of the ongoing China-Australia trade spat.

Liu Xiaoxue, south Asia watcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a leading Chinese government-affiliated think tank, has said the dam will give an opportunity for China and India to cooperate, Perhaps cooperation on China’s terms?

China’s major dam construction on the upper reaches of the Mekong, known in China as the Lancang (and originating from Tibet), have triggered widespread concerns in countries further down the river, including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, after a severe drought since last year. In an attempt to ease tensions, Beijing said last month it had started sharing water information with downstream nations, noted the Dec 3.


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