China’s parliament approves major dam project near Arunachal Pradesh
China’s parliament on Thursday gave the go-ahead to the construction of a major dam and hydropower plant on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river in Tibet near the border with the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
The project was approved by the National People’s Congress (NPC) at its closing session on Thursday as part of the country’s 14th five-year plan.
The Yarlung Zangbo flows through Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and into Arunachal Pradesh as Siang, and then as Brahmaputra in Assam before flowing into Bangladesh.
The project was first announced in November last year. At the time, China had said it was within its legitimate rights to build a dam on the lower reaches of the river, also called Yarlung Tsangpo. Beijing had assured that the hydropower project will take into account the interests of the downstream countries - India and Bangladesh.
This week, at least two top Chinese officials spoke about the importance of the project during the just-concluded annual session of the NPC.
He Lifeng, director of China’s top planning body, the national development and reform commission (NDRC), said “the development of hydropower on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo river” is a world-class landmark project alongside the Sichuan-Tibet railway and the coastal railway project along the Yangtze river.
Last Saturday, Che Dalha, deputy Communist Party chief of TAR had said authorities should “strive to begin construction this year”.
“Comprehensive planning and environmental impact assessments for the project should be approved as soon as possible,” he said on Saturday, according to a press release quoted by Reuters and published on Monday on an official regional government website.
The new dam’s ability to generate hydropower could be three times that of central China’s Three Gorges Dam, which has the largest installed hydropower capacity in the world.
“China will build a hydropower project on the Yarlung Zangbo river, one of the major waters in Asia that also passes through India and Bangladesh,” the state-run tabloid Global Times had said in a report on the project in November.
“There is no parallel in history (of the project)… it will be a historic opportunity for the Chinese hydropower industry,” Yan Zhiyong, chairman of the Power Construction Corp of China (POWERCHINA), had said.
The paperwork on the dam began with POWERCHINA on October 16 signing a strategic cooperation agreement covering the 14th five-year plan with the TAR government.
When asked in December about the project and its impact on lower riparian countries, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had brushed aside apprehensions.
“Hydropower development in the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river is China’s legitimate right. When it comes to the use and development of cross-border rivers, China always acts responsibly,” she had said.