The damming of a Yarlung Zangbo River tributary in Tibet will have no impact downstream when the river flows into Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, China said trying to assuage New Delhi’s concern that dams on the Yarlung could dry up the river system in northeast India and affect millions of lives.
China, has, in fact, gone out its way to help India with data on water flow and possible flood situations downstream and would continue to do so, the ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) told Hindustan Times in its first reaction after announcing the blocking of the tributary earlier this month.
Further, the tributary river contributes very little water flow to the Yarlung, the MFA claimed.
The Yarlung Zangbo, originating in a Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) glacier, flows into Arunachal Pradesh as the Siang River and is known as Brahmaputra in Assam
On October 1, China announced it was blocking the 185 km-long Xiabuqu River, one of many tributaries of the Yarlung Zangbo, to construct a dam as part of the Lalho hydroelectric project in the Xigase region of TAR.
The Yarlung has several tributaries and the Xiabuqu is considered a minor one but the move immediately raised the specter of China controlling the flow of water to the Brahmaputra River.
The timing added to the concern with India and Pakistan sparring over the Indus River, which also originates in TAR.
In an emailed response to HT, the MFA said that there was no need for worry.
“For long, China and India have had excellent cooperation on cross-border water issues. China has overcome difficulties to provide India with services such as hydrological forecast and emergency actions in context of the general situation of Sino- Indian friendship and humanitarian spirit,” the MFA statement said.
The sharing of the data has “…had positive influence on aspects such as flood prevention in related regions.”
Of course, the MFA pointed out that the Xiabuqu River is entirely within China and Beijing has the right to block or dam it.
“The Xiabuqu River where the project locates has been a tributary of Yarlung Zangpo River and the whole of Xiabuqu is within the Chinese territory. The water storage needed for the project has been less than 0.02% of the yearly runoff of the Yarlung Zangpo-Brahmaputra region, posing no threat to the downstream area,” the statement said.
The project is critical for “…ensuring the water safety, food safety and flood control for the region's livelihood.”
China indicated that it will continue to exploit the resources of the Yarlung Zangbo River to develop the region through which it passes.
“China now has only exploited 1% of the water and hydro energy resource in the Yarlung Zangpo River,” the statement said.
“The quality of water flowing out of Chinese territory has been fine and generally in a natural state. (Since the) Yarlung Zangpo River is located in the economically less developed region of ethnic minority residents, the appropriate exploitation of water and hydro energy resources have been a critical part of maintaining the right to exist and development of the local people.”
But the exploitation would be done in a responsible manner, the MFA statement said.
“China has had a responsible attitude towards the exploitation of the water resource in Yarlung Zangpo River, and has been operating under the policy of combining exploitation and conservation together. The orderly exploitations have been implemented after scientific planning, full-proof and cautious decision-making, and are in accordance with the international practice,” the statement said.
“China is willing to continue the related cooperation with India through existing expert-level mechanism on the cross-border water issues,” it said.