Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, asked for more openness on Chinese dam building. Singh said Xi assured him that he would have his proposal for a joint monitoring mechanism “looked into”. Beijing has now conveyed its response rebuffing the transparency idea.
This snub is no surprise: China, the world`s most dammed nation, does not have a single river-collaborative or transparency mechanism with any of its 12 riparian neighbours. Unlike India â€” which has water-sharing treaties with both its downstream neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh, with each pact establishing a distinctively unique principle in international water law â€” China rejects the very concept of water-sharing and is assertively seeking to make water a political weapon. Indeed, as if to proclaim itself as the world`s unrivalled hydro-hegemon, China recently unveiled 11 additional dam projects on the Salween, the Mekong and the Brahmaputra.
As with territorial and maritime disputes, China is seeking to disrupt the status quo on international-river flows. Just as it has quietly encroached on disputed territory in the past to present a fait accompli â€” for example, Aksai Chin (1950s), Paracel Islands (1974), Johnson Reef (1988), Mischief Reef (1995) and Scarborough Shoal (2012) â€” China is seeking to manipulate cross-border river flows by pursuing dam projects furtively until they can no longer be kept hidden.
Although China is the source of trans-boundary river flows to countries ranging from Russia to Vietnam, no nation is more vulnerable to China`s re-engineering of trans-boundary flows than India. The reason? India alone receives nearly half of all river waters that leave China. According to UN figures, a total of 718 billion cubic metres of surface water flows out of Chinese territory yearly, of which 48.33% runs directly into India.