China's top water official has dismissed claims that Beijing plans to divert the Brahmaputra river that flows from Tibet into India to quench China's needs, a proposal that added to tensions between the two parched Asian giants.
The proposal to harness the Yarlung Zangbo River, which becomes the Brahmaputra River in India, has drawn public criticism in India, where Chinese President Hu Jintao has been visiting.
But China's Minister for Water Resources, Wang Shucheng, said the proposal was "unnecessary, unfeasible and unscientific," and had no government backing, the China Daily reported on Wednesday. "There is no need for such dramatic and unscientific projects," Wang said.
Wang's comments appeared to be part of an official effort to quell Indian fears that China has designs on the river water - a volatile issue as Hu seeks to improve his country's image with its sometimes wary neighbour.
"The Chinese government has no plans to build a dam on the Yarlung Zangbo River," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, according to the China Daily.
The proposal to divert what becomes the Brahmaputra River has been promoted by a group of retired officials, and earlier this year it received a burst of publicity in a book entitled "Tibet's Water Will Save China".
The book promoted a massive Great Western Route Water Transfer Project of tunnels and canals to draw water from high in Tibet and send it inland to western China, where economic development is shackled by water shortages.
Chinese officials have backed a smaller project that involves 300 kilometre of tunnels to tap the Yalong, Dadu and Jinsha Rivers that flow into southwest China but not South Asia.
Liu Changming, a hydrologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who has advised the government on these proposals, said there was no official backing for the Great Western Route.
"It's just an idea that has floated around society, in books and media reports," Liu said. "People are confusing the two plans, the smaller Western Route and the Great Western Route, and they're mistaking private enthusiasm for official support."
A team of water experts from the Chinese Academy of Engineers, an advisory group of prominent scientists, concluded that the proposal to tap the Brahmaputra River would be far too expensive, technologically unfeasible, as well as too controversial, Liu said.
"There may be some retired officials that support the plan, but they're not the experts advising the government," he said.