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Uncertainty Over China’s Aims for Brahmaputra River

Oct. 19 – The Indian government has refrained from directly commenting on Beijing’s denial that it is now engaged in constructing a dam across the Brahmaputra River.

“The Indian side has taken up with the Chinese side reports about the construction of a large-scale dam or diversion project in the Brahmaputra,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vishnu Prakash was quoted by Outlook India as saying, referring to the meeting of Expert-Level Mechanism set up in November 2006.  He said the Chinese side has “categorically denied” any plans for a large scale diversion project on the Brahmaputra river.

He went on to say that the ministry would “ascertain whether there are recent developments that suggest any change in the position conveyed to us by the government of China.”

Reports claiming that China was building dams on the Brahmaputra to divert water to its parched northeast regions first came to attention in November 2006. That month, India and China set up an experts committee on transborder rivers.

China has continued to deny that it was building dams on Brahmaputra which would result in diversion of waters crucial for India’s northeast. Yet last year, during a meeting between President Manmohan Singh and Chinese president Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the ASEM summit in Beijing, the conversation focused on the question of Brahmaputra and Chinese actions on it.

There are indications that China may have put plans for the dam in high gear. In April 2009, China’s Gezhouba Corporation, one of the country’s biggest engineering and construction companies, won a RMB1.14 billion bid for building a hydropower plant in Zangmu, in the middle of the Brahmaputra river. The company’s website said it would be responsible for “designing, constructing and running the project that supplies 3.4-million cubic meter of concrete and 8-million-ton aggregate for the water power station. The construction project is expected to last until the end of December 2015.”

The Zangmu is scheduled to be the first dam to be built. China apparently has plans to build four more dams at Jiacha, Zongda, Lengda, Jiexu and Langzhen.

China is building another hydropower project with large-scale dams in Tibet and it has already dammed the Mekong River with the resulting siltation creating a problem for the lower riparian states of Thailand and Cambodia.

China’s dams on its own territory have also come under criticism with several species of fresh water fish becoming extinct and the loss of the Yangtze River Dolphin, the first mammal to become extinct in 50 years.

Beijing says it needs to better manage its water supplies, majority of which originate in Tibet, but water diversion or siphoning is proving catastrophic for some of its neighboring countries because Mekong River levels are becoming depleted. Diversion of the Brahmaputra River would have serious consequences for India’s Northern States.

Related reading

Managing the Mekong

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7 Responses to Uncertainty Over China’s Aims for Brahmaputra River

  1. The_Observer says:

    The commencement of the building a dam across their upper part of the Tsangpo river by China in April this year may have been triggered by India. India approached the ADB long before April, 2009 for a loan for water development projects in AP (including damming of the Brahmaputra which would affect Bangladesh down river). The Chinese considered AP contested territory while the Indians consider it their territory. The Chinese raised the issue with the ADB but in Aug but the ADB approved the general development loans to India. China then managed to get many of the countries on the board of the ADB to agree to a “disclosure agreement,” which prevents the ADB from formally acknowledging and notifying Arunachal Pradesh as part of India. India subsequently stated that the water projects in AP would be self-financed. The Chinese no longer felt it necessary to keep any of their dam building plans on hold with respect to India’s concerns. Since India was going to build dams on the rivers in AP, China felt it could do so on her parts of the rivers and she is going to build 5 if the reports are true. This is much more important than Indians realize and the original newspaper report fails to take into account the severity of the impact. In 5-10 years time when all 5 Chinese dams are in operation the flow in then down-river part in AP will be reduced and the efficiency of any Indian hydro-electric projects will be reduced. China also controlling the upper reaches of the river can choose how much or how little water to release from the dams. In times of drought expect the lower parts of this tribituary to be mud. There is currently nothing India can do as she has no water-sharing agreements with China and no proper de-lineated borders. You can expect India to request more sober, somber talks with China about a wider set of issues related to their borders.

  2. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Well the news here is that China aren’t intending to do anything really naughty and that Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao will be talking a lot in Thailand this week about border issues. We’ll see in fairly short order how much progress they manage to make.

  3. how can we trust on china while wound of 62 is still alive .china is frequently poking its nose in the territory of India as media reported .So whom we trust .

  4. Canada Guy says:

    Glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau are the source of 10 major rivers in Asia and provide water for almost half the world’s population. Yet, according to the IPCC, they are melting faster than any other glaciers on the planet. China is now diverting much of the remaining supplies, leading to shortages in other countries and increased political tension.


  5. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Which is all rather ironic when you compare to the previous entry on this site (scroll back one from the top) about the Maldives. – Chris


    It is a serious matter and its a biggest thrite for the northestern part of India.As it is a serious matter related to ecology,environment and life style of the vast Bharhmaputra Platu So, China should think about it and India Should Prepare a systamatic Protest against Brahamaputra Dam

  7. Mukesh Pokharel says:

    Sapta koshi High Dam Multi-purpose dam is going to be built in upstream of present huge Dam in the border of India(Bihar State) and Nepal.Official told that they are seeking permanent solution for floods and irrigation for downstream people but deam voice of biodiversity and right of displaced people living upstream has been diverted.Nepali and Indian governments have already signed an agreement to implement the Saptakoshi High-Dam Multipurpose Project. Besides providing facilities of extensive irrigation, the project with its 269-metre high dam aims at generating 3,300 MW hydropower.Why indian scholar and activist who think themselves for human right and animal right,nature conservation expert are not aware of that?Everybody should be prepare for protest in any place.These place are in huge risk for earth quake.please remember the earth quake of 1950AD in that region and please be prepare for possible damage to downstream in near future.who knows when the such massive earth quake will come?

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