The ongoing India-China border standoff is now being compounded by a new source of tension – water resources. Both countries are pursuing major hydropower projects near their shared border, which is raising concerns about environmental impacts and escalating geopolitical tensions.
India has decided to revive 12 hydropower projects along its border with China, with an estimated cost of $15.3 billion. These projects are expected to generate a significant 11,517 megawatts of energy and will be located in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. This region has been the subject of territorial claims by China in the past, and India’s revival of these dam projects is part of its strategy to bolster infrastructure in the disputed area.
Simultaneously, China is constructing a massive dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo River, known as the Brahmaputra in India. This river flows from Tibet into northeastern India and Bangladesh, making it a transboundary waterway. Concerns have arisen about the potential downstream impact of the Chinese dam, affecting water flow and agricultural practices in India and Bangladesh.
The border between India and China, known as the Line of Actual Control, spans approximately 3,440 kilometers and is challenging to demarcate due to the presence of rivers and lakes. This ambiguity has led to border disputes and shifting boundaries in the past, complicating diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation.
Adding to the complexity, China’s recent release of maps asserting territorial claims over parts of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region has exacerbated tensions. Aksai Chin is controlled by China but claimed by India as part of its Kashmir region. China, in contrast, insists on its sovereignty over all of Arunachal Pradesh.
Beyond the geopolitical implications, the hydropower projects and the Chinese dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo raise significant environmental concerns. The fragile Himalayan ecosystem is at risk, and changes in water flows could disrupt the livelihoods of communities downstream.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been actively promoting infrastructure development in the disputed region, not only through hydropower projects but also by constructing what’s touted as the “largest hydroelectric power facility” on the Dibang River in Arunachal Pradesh.
While these endeavours aim to foster regional development, they also have the potential to escalate tensions between India and China. The competition for water resources in a region already fraught with territorial disputes adds another layer of complexity to the ongoing standoff.