Why China and India need to give it a new look – OpEd – Eurasia Review
In today’s hydro-diplomatic realities, cross-border rivers have obvious political importance, either as a source of cooperation or as a cause of tension between the riparian states. If a country tries to act unilaterally in a common basin, hydrological interdependence causes discord.
The Yarlung Zangbo better known as the Brahmaputra Basin (BRB), which is shared by four countries: China (50.5%), India (33.6%), Bangladesh (8.1%) and Bhutan (7.8%), provides survival services to more than 80 million people, including more than 200 multi-ethnic indigenous tribes.
Due to a complex hydropolitical setup as well as the negative impact of climate change, water diplomacy on the Brahmaputra River would become much more complicated in the future. In addition to this, as China, India and Bangladesh continue to grow demographically, economically as well as with increased industrial consumption, it is evident that countries will face water scarcity more than ever before, this which will further aggravate the already worse situation.
Among basin stakeholders, Bangladesh is critically dependent (around 91%) on external water sources and at least 60% of its population relies on the Brahmaputra watershed. The river supplies over 65% of the country’s river water each year.
India’s concern is that activities at the politically controversial Chinese hydropower project near Arunachal Pradesh could strengthen China’s claim to the area China considers “southern Tibet.” In addition, India is currently in a situation of water stress with a water availability per capita of 1,545 cubic meters per year (population census -2011) and will face a serious problem of water shortage in the near future.
China, which has about 20% of the world’s population, has only 7% of the world’s freshwater resources, 80% of which is found in southern China. Water scarcity is a national threat due to this uneven distribution.
In such a confrontational scenario, it is highly unlikely that countries will compromise on their demands for water in the Brahmaputra River, rather they will take a very conservative stance in any negotiation on water. It is therefore not surprising that competition from riparian states for water flow control is intensifying and that a conflictual situation eventually arises on this front.
On July 1, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China with the construction of a 16,000 MW Baihetan Dam (the 2nd largest in the world) posed serious concern to India because the National People’s Congress (APN), China’s supreme legislative body, has adopted a new five-year plan (2021-25) that gives a green signal to the construction of a 60 gigawatt mega-hydropower plant in Medog, near Arunachal.
Although China continues to assure India and Bangladesh that its hydroelectric project is run-of-river (RoR) -based, which does not involve storage or diversion, India, its Asian rival remained concerned that such large-scale Chinese projects will ‘choke the flow of the Brahmaputra and trigger flash floods or create water scarcity in northeast India during a time of the Sino-Indian conflict.
Bangladesh is worried about this, but it is more complex and the immediate concern is India’s 10 GW hydroelectric dam project with large water storage capacity that would likely divert water from the river. . There is speculation that the Indian dam will have a signi ﬁ cant direct eect on Bangladesh as the lion’s share of the Brahmaputra comes from Indian borders and only 30-40% comes from Tibet.
Furthermore, with regard to water security, the threat perceptions of Bangladesh emanate from the diversions of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra to Delhi through the River-Linking Project (RLP), in particular the Manas-Sankosh-Tista- Ganga (MSTG) and the controversial use of river resources via Farakka and Gazaldoba Dam on Ganga and Teesta respectively.
However, water experts and environmentalists say the combined hydropower projects of China and India could have a wide range of socio-economic and environmental impacts on Bangladesh. Because these projects have the potential to retain massive amounts of silt, deteriorate water quality, lower groundwater levels, restrict navigation, increasing river salinity ultimately threatens the means of recovery. economic subsistence. More importantly, in the event of heavy rains upstream, flooding and other water-related hazards will wreak havoc in Bangladesh, which is flood-prone over 80% of its land area.
In short, if China builds a dam upstream, India will be alarmed. Likewise, if India and China proceed with such dam projects, Bangladesh will certainly be affected.
Taking into account all hydropolitical aspects, riparian countries should explore the scope of a cooperative benefit-sharing approach that could produce a positive-sum outcome by maximizing the available benefits and sharing them equitably in order to achieve a positive-sum result. win-win solution. The shared vision of achieving food security, sustainable economic growth and access to cost-effective electricity can bring four riparian countries under the same umbrella to cooperate with each other.
India can work jointly with Bangladesh to connect its National Waterway-2 to its National Waterway-1, which will give India much needed access to its northeastern provinces in a cost-effective and safe manner. Bhutan, the landlocked country in the basin, can find immense opportunities to increase its international trade and trade through the river system. Multipurpose storage dams in China or India would have multiple advantages as they have immense potential for hydropower generation, which can be distributed regionally through connectivity to the regional grid.
Besides economic benefits, joint investment, collective management and co-ownership of resources can create long-awaited regional economic integration, easing political tensions like Senegal and the Columbia River Basin countries.
Thus, in addition to state-level diplomacy, countries should promote Channel II and III diplomacy to establish a River Basin Commission under which they will seek to identify a basket of benefits in the areas of procurement. in water, hydroelectric power stations and multipurpose storage dam, energy production, navigation on water, flood control, fishing, tourism, etc. A platform like BCIM or SAARC can be a viable option to promote trading.
In South Asia, the Permanent Indus Commission is a glaring example of river cooperation, which has managed to survive even after three wars, a number of military clashes and several other episodes of political friction since 1960 between the two rivals. nuclear: India and Pakistan.
Thus, India and China, the region’s two greatest geopolitical forces, are expected not to stick to the zero-sum dilemma by starting a hydropower race in the Brahmaputra, but rather consider adaptive hydro-diplomacy to form a “Brahmaputra Basin Commission. along the mechanism of the Danube, Mekong, Indus, Senegal or Colombia basin.
* Sufian Siddique, graduated in international relations from Bangladesh, and now development officer and commentator on South Asian politics and strategic studies in a research-based university students platform