We often neglect the value of nature that surrounds us. The fresh air and water are nothing interesting in particular. These underestimated factors, however, could go a step further and lead to bigger disputes if and when they are taken away from us. India and China might sever their diplomatic relationship due to water disputes. Where does the future lead and how will this dispute end?
Water, a source of life, has created disputes among countries. One country in particular – India--has suffered from increasing tensions with its neighboring countries due to water-related problems.
Most of the major cities in India are surrounded by rivers, and that water not only plays a role for consumption, but also transportation, energy and religious beliefs. For Indians, water is more than a tool for survival. It is something holy and divine. If water is taken out of their lives, their foundation for life would be shaken.
China and India border each other and share more than 16 major rivers. Disputes over water were inevitable. The river that both countries are chiefly concerned about is the Brahmaputra River, also known as the Yarlung Zangbo River. Both China and India plan to use the river as a resource to develop their countries.
For China, such a plan started long ago. In 1999, Jiang Zemin, the former president of China, announced the "xibu da kaifa," also known as the Great Western Extraction, which was a plan to move water from the Tibet area to the Yellow River. Such announcements created discord between the two countries, as China showed its ambitions towards a water source shared by the two countries.
The mounting tensions finally erupted when China claimed that it was going to dam the river. This was treachery from India’s point of view, since China had been denying that it was going to construct any dams. During a 2011 press conference, Jiao Yong, China’s Vice Minister of Water Resources, claimed that despite the increasing demand for water in China, "considering the technical difficulties, the actual need of diversion and the possible impact on the environment and state-to-state relations, the Chinese government has no plan to conduct any diversification project on this river."
This promise was broken, however, when the Chinese government realized that it was impossible to sustain its fast-growing country without the help of water from surrounding rivers.
What was more surprising about China’s actions was that it had done the research to bring the plan into action. In fact, the dam project is expected to be completed by 2015. According to Claude Arpi, who regularly writes on the geopolitics of the region, environment and Indo-French relations, “The Water Diversion Project would collect waters from six rivers: the Yarlung Tsangpo (later known as Siang in Arunachal and Brahmaputra in Assam), Salween, Mekong and Yangtze, Yalung and Dadu rivers and before reaching the upper reaches of the Yellow River.” Furthermore, Arpi argued that the project had been studied thoroughly by the Chinese government long before it made its sudden announcement that it was going to carry out the project.
China’s desire to utilize the water is somewhat understandable when reviewing its long history of suffering caused by the lack of water. It is one of the countries with the least available water when reviewing its ratio of population and land space. The problem further worsens in the northern regions. According to the Geopolitical Monitor, “300 million people in China have no access to safe drinking water and 400 of the country’s 600 major towns are suffering from water shortages.” There have been many protests regarding such environmental issues. Thus, the Chinese government made a decision to break its promise and use the water from Brahmaputra River and divert it to the north of China.
As a counteraction to China, India has made plans to build a hydro plantation using the river. According to Jack Di Nunzio, a research assistant at the Global Food and Water Crises Research Program, a country may gain influence over natural resources if it can prove that it is using the resources well. India aimed to build hydroelectric power plants for this reason. This, however, ground to a halt due to the slow government approval and many other complications. In reality, there is nothing that India can do to stop China from building its dam.
It is clear that China is running out of water, and it is crucial for them to get water from somewhere. This, however, does not give them the right to take water from the Brahmaputra River, which is located on the border of China and India.
The issue is a global one since this conflict might lead to a bigger dispute between India and China. If their relationship worsens, the friction created by water will not only affect the two countries but also the other surrounding countries.