As the border standoff between India and China continues to test diplomatic efforts, a new source of tension is emerging: water resources. Both countries are embarking on major hydropower projects near their shared border, raising concerns about the impact on the region’s fragile environment and the potential for heightened geopolitical tensions.
India is reviving 12 hydropower projects along its border with China, with an estimated cost of $15.3 billion. These projects are expected to generate a massive 11,517 megawatts of energy. They will be located in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, an area that China has laid territorial claims to in the past. This revival of dam projects is part of India’s strategy to enhance its infrastructure in the disputed region.
Meanwhile, China is constructing a massive dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo, also known as the Brahmaputra when it enters India. This river is a trans-boundary waterway that flows from Tibet into northeastern India and Bangladesh. The Chinese dam project has raised concerns about its potential impact downstream, affecting water flow and agricultural practices in India and Bangladesh.
The border between India and China, known as the Line of Actual Control, spans approximately 3,440 kilometers and is poorly demarcated due to the presence of rivers and lakes. This ambiguity has led to shifting borders in the past and poses challenges for diplomatic resolution.
To complicate matters, China’s recent release of maps asserting its claims over parts of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region has added fuel to the fire. Aksai Chin is controlled by China but claimed by India as part of its Kashmir region. China, in turn, insists that all of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to it.
Aside from the geopolitical implications, the hydropower projects and the Chinese dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo raise serious environmental concerns. The delicate Himalayan ecosystem is at risk, and the alteration of water flows could disrupt the livelihoods of communities downstream.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has been actively promoting infrastructure development in the disputed region. This includes not only hydropower projects but also other major initiatives, such as the construction of the “largest hydroelectric power facility” on the Dibang River in Arunachal Pradesh.
These infrastructure endeavors, while aimed at enhancing regional development, have the potential to escalate tensions between India and China. The competition for water resources in a region already fraught with territorial disputes adds another layer of complexity to the ongoing standoff.