Throw light on the Sino-India water disputes. What are strategic threats to India from China’s control over rivers flowing through northeast India? Discuss.

May 3, 2018

Water disputes are one of the contentious issues between India and China. Many strategic thinkers are arguing that disputes relating to water will be major source of conflict between the two countries in the future. China’s plan of constructing big dams and diverting the water of rivers to its own advantage has created discontent in India. As there are four rivers that flow from China to India, the two countries must have a better understanding relating to water sharing and other attending benefits out of these rivers.
The transnational rivers have emerged as bone of contention in Sino-India relations

  • China plans to build dams and divert water from rivers flowing into North-eastern region of India this has created apprehension among communities living in these regions.
  • Flash floods that ravaged Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh between 2000 and 2005 were linked to the unannounced releases from rain-swollen Chinese dams and barrages
  • Thus China and India signed two bilateral MOUs of 2013 and a 2014 accord, which obligate China to transfer hydrological data to India from three upstream monitoring stations in Tibet every year from May 15 to October 15.
  • This year China did not share the data in the backdrop of Dhoklam standoff as political tool, the denial crimped flash flood modeling in India leading to floods in Assam and U.P.

There are agreements on Transboundary Rivers but no agreement on hydrological data sharing. Water sharing and hydrological data sharing arrangement is made through mutual agreements between the nations.
Strategic threats from Chinese projects

  • China’s dam building overdrive is a concern because there are no bilateral or multilateral treaties on the water. China is using strategy of fate accompli and imposing status quo to settle the disputes.
  • Dam building can aid China in asserting claim over Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Chinese dam building activities can reduce water flow into India. This will threaten the livelihood opportunities and ecology of north eastern India.
  • Dams, canals, irrigation systems can turn water into a political weapon to be wielded in war, or during peace to signal annoyance with India.
  • Diversion of the Brahmaputra is an idea China does not discuss in public, because it implies devastating India’s northeastern plains and Bangladesh, either with floods or reduced water flow.
  • India is not the first victim of China’s water politics. Earlier, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia also protested over the building of 8 hydropower dams on the River Mekong which is considered lifeline of these countries but their protestations have gone in vain. The resultant effect on the ecology of these countries is now visible.

There is a need for International arrangement so that any violation which threatens the safety and security of people can be dealt effectively.

   

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