China blocks Brahmaputra tributary in Tibet to build dam

Beijing, ChinaUpdated: Oct 01, 2016, 12:17 PM IST

The Lalho project will be one of China's most expensive projects. Representative image of the country's Three Gorges Dam. Photograph:(AFP)

China has blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet for constructing a hydro project, a decision that could potentially impact the flow of water into lower riparian countries like India and Bangladesh.

The Lalho project on Xiabuqu river — a tributary of the Brahmputra — will be China's "most expensive project", Zhang Yunbao, head of the project's administration bureau, told China's state-run news agency Xinhua on Saturday. 

The project involves an investment of 4.95 billion yuan ($740 million). Construction began in June 2014 and is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

He also said the project would serve multiple purposes including flood control, power generation and irrigation of the drought-prone farming area. 

From Shigatse — located close to the Indian state of Sikkim — the Brahmaputra flows into India through the state of Arunachal Pradesh. 

It is not clear yet what impact the blockade of the tributary will have on India and Bangladesh, as both countries rely on Brahmaputra water.

Beijing's decision to block the Brahmaputra tributary comes after India threatened to scrap the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan in retaliation to the Uri attack on September 18. China is known to be a close ally of Pakistan.

Geopolitical analysts have raised concerns over China's policy of using control over river water as a leveraging tool over India, especially in its dispute with Pakistan. 

Defence expert professor Brahma Chellaney told DNA in an interview last month that China believes in "absolute control over river waters" and its policy of building dams on the Brahmaputra could tap into resources of India, Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries.

On September 27, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang gave a guarded reply when asked about India's Indus waters dispute with Pakistan. Some of the rivers under the Indus Waters Treaty originate in China.

"As a friendly neighbour to both India and Pakistan, China hopes that India and Pakistan can properly address disputes and improve relations through dialogue and consultation, maintain and enhance all-round cooperation and join hands to promote regional peace, stability and development," Shuang had told PTI.

Last year, China had operationalised the $1.5 billion Zam Hydropower Station on the Brahmaputra river, the largest in Tibet. 

The outline of the country's 12th Five Year Plan indicates that three more hydropower projects on the Brahmaputra river in the Tibet Autonomous Region have been approved for implementation, a development that has worried New Delhi.

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.

But China has maintained that it has taken India's concerns into consideration, stating that its hydroelectric projects do not involve water storage.

While there is no water treaty between the countries, India and China established an Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) on trans-border rivers. In 2013, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers under which Beijing provides data to India on the water flows.

(WION with inputs from PTI)