Is China aiming to weaponize water?


Water wars are conflicts that occur between countries, states, or groups over water resources, where water can be a trigger of conflict or even used as a weapon of war.

Recently it has been reported that China is constructing a massive dam on the Mabuja zambo River, just a few kilometres north of the India-Nepal border a step to prepare for a future water war. China is also planning to build an airport near this dam hence assisting the Chinese Air force movement alongside.

Chinese occupation of Tibet has already impacted India’s safety on the geopolitical front, however the impact of environmental destruction and rampant damming of international rivers that originate from Tibetan plateau and its potential impact on downstream nations like India is far more significant. The Brahmaputra River, which is also known as the “Yarlung Tsangpo,” has its source in the Chemayungdung glacier in Tibet and it flows into three densely populated nations — China, India, and Bangladesh1. With the occupation of Tibet, China has become the country to acquire and utilize the maximum amount of the river. However, from polluting the river to building dams and environmental degradation Beijing can create tensions in the near future and establish complete control over the water in the area.

According to government sources, China is planning to construct 20 dams to generate a 60,000 MW at Yarlung Zambo (Brahmaputra) in Medog, on the border with Arunachal Pradesh, ostensibly to attain China’s carbon neutrality goal by 2060. The China Yangtze Power Company (CYPC) had proposed building a vast tunnel under the ridge that separates the two arms of the Big Bend and diverts 50 billion cubic metres of water a year to the south-eastern slope, where it will fall over nine cascading hydropower dams to generate 40,000 MW of peak power. This has adversely affected the converging belts underground and as a result could lead to earthquakes. The Great Bend sits at the meeting point of the Himalayas and two other mountain chains and is right on top of one of the most unstable onshore seismic zones in the world2.  Experts predict that it will  have a negative impact on the lower riparian states, particularly India, including environmental consequences and the creation of artificial floods.

Water diversion, again could put a strain on India’s agricultural needs in the northeast and mismanagement could lead to overflows and floods in India. It may also negatively impact the food security and livelihood of people residing across the river. Experts have pointed out that dam construction could cause the river to lose its silt and lead to a reduction in agriculture productivity.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the sharing of hydrological data from three upstream monitoring stations of the Brahmaputra River in Tibet during every monsoon season from May 15 to October 15 with India and Bangladesh was agreed by China. While China sells its hydro-logical data, India provides it for free to its neighbors 3. Beijing however, has stopped providing the hydro-logical data to India since the 2017– China–India border standoff, also known as the Doklam Issue, over the Chinese construction of a route in Doklam, next to the Donglang tri- junction boundary. This hydro logical data is of great importance to the Indian side in order to predict or prepare for floods and mitigate flood damage4. Although Beijing claimed the alleged paucity in data sharing to India was due to renovation, however, they have consistently provided the same data to Bangladesh at no cost. Consequently, Assam’s officials reported to BBC that they are witnessing more floods after China stopped providing river data5. It is clear that Beijing is weaponizing the Brahmaputra River by damaging Indian states overall establishment.

Military experts in New Delhi have stressed what they see as the significant security implications of a disputed giant dam near the Indian border, as the Chinese attempt to link water issues with broader border disputes in order to put pressure on India6. If China continues with the lack of transparency over its future projects, and not adhere to the MoUs, the mistrust between the countries will continue to increase and it could lead to conflicts in the future. Therefore, it is

necessary to set up a joint institutional mechanism to encourage further cooperation on disaster management, climate change and environmental protection. If the current situation remains the same, then world may see the war on water as predicted by experts.

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