China approves dam projects on the Brahmaputra River in its new five-year plan

New Delhi: India’s neighbor, China plans to reduce the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra River, commonly known as Yarlung Tsangpo, in China. The number of projects listed under China’s new five-year plan is to be built very close to the border of both nations.

On the basis of geographical location, China shares more than 50 major cisterns with more than 14 neighboring countries. With such benefits, China can hold back a significant amount of water up to 730 BCM (billion cubic meters) from its neighboring countries, making the move a strategic asset.

China has always been considered a “hydro-hagenum”. The country has a legacy of manipulating the flow of rivers and hydraulic engineering. China’s powerful hydraulic bureaucracy goes back to 1949, when Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung came to power and formulated several instructions to exploit rivers and nature. “Nature is an enemy that had to be beaten,” he believed. Following the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung, a wide variety of investments were made in the hydroelectric sector, mega dams, and water division projects.

These facts raise more questions on the latest move by China to build water projects close to national borders.

More than 56% of the Brahmaputra / Yarlung Tsangpo, a Himalayan river, flows into the Chinese region. As the river crosses the Himalayan crustline, it receives an annual rainfall of about 2,000–2,100 mm, resulting in swelling of the river line when it enters India. The data suggests that the annual outflow of Yarlung Tsangpo from China is lower than the Brahmaputra in India. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that India has enough water to exploit.

One aspect related to this is the water supply of the Northeast region which may be affected in any way by this decision.

China’s upstream position is a reality, but it continues to dominate the Brahmaputra. The time has come to emphasize China’s hydro-hegemony. It is necessary to promote a more meaningful water dialogue on hydrological data-sharing, but India will need to form a bottom-up alliance with Bhutan and Bangladesh on the Brahmaputra.


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