No need for concern in India over China’s blockage of Brahmaputra River tributary

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/10 1:28:39

China-India relations should not be affected by an imaginary "water war."

It is easy to understand the anger of Indian people as they read recent news reports saying China had blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra River, which is a trans-boundary river flowing from Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region into the northeastern Indian state of Assam and later into Bangladesh, serving as an important water source for the regions.

The move by China to temporarily blockade the tributary to construct a dam sparked widespread concerns in India, but people in the downstream country may be ignoring one thing: The reservoir capacity of the dam is less than 0.02 percent of the average annual runoff of the Brahmaputra. Frankly, there is no need for India to overreact to such projects, which aim to help with reasonable development and utilization of water resources.

However, what is worrying is that some local Indian media outlets linked the blockage with India's recent water dispute with Pakistan, trying to create the false impression that China may be interested in taking part in the so-called water war between the two South Asian countries to give Pakistan silent support. However, construction of the dam project on the tributary of the Brahmaputra started in June 2014.

It is clear the blockade to construct the dam does not target India, and relevant countries should not read too much into the move.

It is understandable that India is sensitive to China's water exploitation on the Brahmaputra as a downstream country, but China is unlikely to use the waters of the river as a potential weapon. China is the source of several trans-boundary rivers including the Lancang-Mekong River, which runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. If China blocked the Brahmaputra for political reasons, such a move would cause panic among the five Southeast Asian nations and therefore damage China's relationship with them.

There are cooperation mechanisms for China and the five Southeast Asian countries that can help coordinate sustainable use of water resources in the Lancang-Mekong River and share information.

We believe that China is willing to borrow from the experience of this mechanism when it comes to promoting cooperation among the Brahmaputra's three major riparian countries. This will be the most effective solution to the water dispute between China and India.

Realistically, people may need to make efforts to persuade India, rather than China, to accept a multilateral cooperation mechanism involving all of the Brahmaputra's riparian countries.

In recent years, India has been making increasing efforts to exploit the Brahmaputra River through various forms, in a bid to develop the river's water resources. Some efforts may have harmed the interests of downstream Bangladesh, but the lack of bargaining power for Bangladesh, whose economy is highly dependent on India, has resulted in limited public attention. India may feel reluctant to establish a cooperation mechanism among the Brahmaputra's riparian countries because such a mechanism is likely restrain India from moves that might hurt Bangladesh's interests. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

Posted in: Eye on The Economy

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