China’s hydro-hegemony based on Tibetan plateau’s control could spell disaster

New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) Since Tibet’s occupation, China has disrupted the natural flow of rivers by the pursuit of a series of ill-conceived environmental and developmental policies such as the Great Leap Forward and South-North Water Diversion project etc.
This has led to a dam-building spree on the Tibetan plateau with disastrous impacts on Asia’s major rivers. China is now home to over 30,000 dams, more than the total number of dams in the rest of the world put together, Global Order reported.
Since the Asian continent is already water stressed, it is likely that south and south-east Asia could become the flash point for water wars in the future. In such a circumstance, China’s hydro hegemony based on the control of the Tibetan plateau could spell economic and ecological, not to mention humanitarian, disasters in the region.
Due to these mega dams, many countries especially those in the downstream regions have now started to express serious concerns over the geo-political implications of China’s unnatural appetite for dams. Although China has couched its dam building projects as clean energy initiatives, its downstream neighbours fear that China could use water as a political weapon to pressure them into submission and compliance on boundary, trade, and political disputes.
India, China’s southern neighbour and regional rival, is particularly concerned about China’s recent plans to build a mega dam on the Brahmaputra. This super dam that China is planning in Metok County (historically Tibet’s Pema Koe region) is expected to be much larger than the Three Gorges Dam – the world’s current largest power station. With the completion of this mega dam, China would wield enormous leverage over India and Bangladesh’s water economy and ecology, raising fears that this mega dam could cause mega problems for everyone involved.
The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the Brahmaputra basin which includes the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is already the site of ongoing territorial disputes between India and China, arousing not just environmental but also serious security concerns in India, the report said.
China now enjoys an asymmetric power over its neighbours. This not only hinders the development of a rules-based regional order in Asia, but also gives China a lot of geopolitical power through the hydro-hegemony that it has established by occupying Tibet.
In such an environmental, economic, and security context, what is happening on the Tibetan plateau is of critical importance to the rest of the world especially Asia. Taking cognisance of the critical matter, the exile Tibetan Parliament passed an official resolution during its third session last month on the situation of Tibet’s environment.
It resolved to highlight China’s damming of Asian rivers and apprise world leaders including India’s diplomatic and political leadership on the significance of Tibet’s environment. As the headwater source of Asia’s major rivers, the Tibetan plateau is key to the economic, ecological and geopolitical security in Asia.
However, the potential impact of the Tibetan plateau’s environment is still surprisingly unfamiliar to many, perhaps due to the fact that the remoteness, high altitude and harsh weather conditions make research on the Tibetan plateau challenging. China is clearly aware of this fact and is exploiting this challenge to establish its hydro-hegemony and skew the regional power balance in its favour.

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