Despite the media and popular outcry, India chose not to scrap the Indus Water Treaty and deprive Pakistan of the waters of the river and its tributaries. Yet China is not India – and should not be expected to be so. A tributary of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet has been blocked by Beijing to facilitate the construction of a hydro project it dubs “most expensive”.
According to reports, China started building the Lalho dam on Xiabuqu river, a tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo (the Tibetan name for Brahmaputra), in 2014 at Xigaze province in Tibet.
The entire project would cost China around $740 million. Xigaze shares the Chinese border with India at Sikkim. River Tsangpo originates in Mount Kailash in Tibet and flows all the way through Xigaze, takes a turn down south from the Namcha Barwa mountain (known as the Great Bend), and enters Arunachal Pradesh in India. China expects completing the project by 2019. This is the second major dam on the main source of the Brahmaputra being constructed by China.
On October 13, 2015 China started operations on the Zangmu Dam – its first dam on the Brahmaputra.
The Zangmu Dam.
India had objected when China started constructing the $1.5 billion dam in 2009 but was told that the dam is a run-of-the-river (RoR) type, which means that it does not store water for hydro power. It is this same logic that China has given to India regarding the Lalho dam project. But New Delhi has reasons to be concerned because China can at any time decide to hold back water and that would be problematic for India.
Reports say that China will be building three more hydropower projects on the mainstream of the Brahmaputra river.
In March, Union Minister of State for Water Resources Sanwar Lal Jat said in a statement that India had expressed its concerns to China about the likely impact of the dams. The absence of a water treaty between India and China complicates the problem and gives Beijing an upper-hand in any future water-related negotiations.
That China can do to India what India didn’t to Pakistan can be gauged from how it triggered an energy game in southeast Asia and starved the countries of water by building a series of dams on the Mekong river.
India should be alarmed, very alarmed.