The news that the “China Power Construction Group will undertake hydropower development in the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra River” has become a hotspot for Indian media overnight, on account of concerns about being “choked” by the Chinese side.
Chairman of the Board of Directors of China Power Construction Corporation, Mr. Yan Zhiyong, said recently when talking about the development of hydropower in the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra that the main stream of the basin has abundant hydropower resources, and the lower reaches of river in the Big Bend area has the “world’s richest hydropower concentration”, nearly 70 million kilowatts of technically exploitable resources equivalent to three Three Gorges power stations.
Media outlets such as the Press Trust of India have quoted the report almost verbatim, emphasizing that India and Bangladesh, as lower riparian countries in the Brahmaputra basin, may face water security threats as a result. The Hindustan Times reported that China has a strategic advantage over India in terms of transboundary water resources, as it is the upper riparian state of seven major rivers in South Asia and the central South China Peninsula.
A paper by Australia’s Lowy International Policy Institute released in July avers that for India, China’s status as an upstream state of a transboundary river is an inescapable reality that is, at the same time, also an insurmountable challenge. As shown by the recent conflict between China and India in the border areas, India will need to assess how China can “weaponize” its advantages against countries downstream in its trans-boundary rivers. China’s control of these rivers is sufficient for “choking” the Indian economy.
Singapore’s “Lianhe Zaobao” quoted an expert’s analysis on November 30, saying that China’s hydroelectric power station construction may also have positive effects on India role through peak regulation, by staggering flows. In the future, the river may flow more steadily throughout the year, and improve availability of water downstream during the dry season “but the prerequisite is good Sino-Indian relations”.
“The Indian government’s focus on transboundary rivers is strategic”, an Indian source familiar with the situation told the Huan Qiu Shi Bao. The source believes that although the border confrontation between China and India has led to bilateral tensions, communication channels such as expert-level mechanisms for cross-border rivers have not been suspended, and India is likely to express its concerns to China through existing bilateral platforms or propose a multilateral linkage plan similar to the “Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Mechanism”. However, he stressed that, with the Sino-Indian border stalemate unresolved and no improvement in bilateral relations, it is difficult to be optimistic about cross-border river cooperation.
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