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China’s new dam in western Tibet raises yet another strategic concern in India

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(TibetanReview.net, Jan20’23) – China is building a new dam in remote western Tibet over a tributary of what becomes the Ganga in downstream India, satellite images have been cited as showing. Given the state of Sino-India relations today, and China’s furious building of infrastructure, including dual-use ones, across the southern Tibetan border regions, the focus has inexorably turned to China’s strategic intentions behind it.

What is more, this development close to India’s northwestern border comes in the wake of China unveiling plans to build a “super” dam close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Tibet on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo river, which flows into India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh as the Siang before continuing into Assam as the Brahmaputra, noted the hindustantimes.com Jan 20.

The report cited satellite images tweeted Jan 19 by Damien Symon, a geospatial intelligence researcher at the Intel Lab, as showing earth development and dam construction activity done by the Chinese on “Mabja Zangbo” (Tibetan: Macha Khabab or “the flow from peacock’s mouth”) river in Purang County of Tibet since May 2021.

The images were stated to depict the obstruction of the river’s path, the formation of a reservoir, and an embankment-type dam.

The “Mabja Zangbo” river flows into the Ghaghara or Karnali river in Nepal before eventually joining the Ganga in India.

The dam is located just a few kilometres north of the tri-junction of Chinese-ruled Tibet’s border with India and Nepal. “It appears to be an embankment dam,” Symon has said, adding, “An airport is being constructed nearby as well.”

Satellite images of China new dam which is being build in Tibet on a tributary of the river Ganga. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/@detresfa_)

He has also said the dam appears to be 350 metres to 400 metres long, but “the structure is currently in development, so the purpose is unknown.”

* * *

The report cited people familiar with the matter as saying the dam, located at the strategic tri-junction of occupied Tibet’s borders with India and Nepal and opposite the Kalapani region of India’s Uttarakhand state, could be used to divert or restrict the waters of the “Mabja Zangbo” river.

And it could also be used to store water, whose release could create floods downstream, they have said.

China has built several smaller dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo river in recent years, triggering similar concerns related to the Brahmaputra in the North-East

In the case of the planned “super” dam, Chinese state-run media had reported in Nov 2020 that it would be more than a hydropower project as it would also be meaningful for national security.

Since a military face-off between Indian and Chinese troops began in Ladakh sector of the LAC in May 2020, numerous satellite images and reports have detailed the creation of military and dual-use infrastructure, including airports, missile and air defence facilities and munitions dumps, the report said.

China has also built dozens of villages in hitherto uninhabited stretches of the LAC, a move seen by experts as being aimed at buttressing its claim to territory along the disputed boundary.

Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), has described the new dam as a clear attempt by China to strengthen its existing infrastructure with dual use benefits, as it had done previously on the Yarlung Tsangpo river. “Given the fragile ecology of Tibet, this is surely going to have implications for India’s water security and will further exacerbate the already strained bilateral relations,” he has said.


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