General Studies IIIInternal Security

China gives green light for first downstream dams on Brahmaputra


In its new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), China has proposed to build first dams on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet before it flows into India.

  • Other major projects include the construction of coastal nuclear power plants and power transmission channels.

Key Highlights

  • A draft of China’s new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), which is set to be formally approved has given the green light.
  • The dams to be built on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet before it flows into India.
  • The inclusion of the projects in the draft plan suggests the authorities have given the go-ahead to begin tapping the lower reaches for the first time, which marks a new chapter in the hydropower exploitation of the river.

What are India’s concerns?

  1. China’s dam building overdrive is a concern because there are no bilateral or multilateral treaties on the water.
  2. China believes dam building on the Brahmaputra helps it assert claim over Arunachal Pradesh.
  3. India believes China’s projects in the Tibetan plateau threaten to reduce river flows into India.
  4. Dams, canals, irrigation systems can turn water into a political weapon to be wielded in war, or during peace to signal annoyance with a co-riparian state.
  5. Denial of hydrological data becomes critical when the flow in the river is very high.
  6. China is contemplating northward re-routing of the Yarlung Zangbo.
  7. 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.

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