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Interaction with scholars from the Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation of Taiwan

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  • July 06, 2010
    Round Table

    IDSA held an interaction with scholars from the Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation of Taiwan to discuss issues related to climate change, especially those concerning the Indian sub-continent and China.

    The scholars from Taiwan included Ms. Chang Hsueh-Ping, Mr. Liu Chin-Tsai and Mr. Lin Tzu-Chao. The team from IDSA included Col. (Retd.) P.K. Gautam, Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha, Dr. Jagannath Panda, Ms. Rukmani Gupta and Mr. Avinash Godbole.

    Extending a warm welcome to the Taiwanese visitors, Col. Gautam began the discussion by observing that scholars of Chinese history have documented the correlation between war and climate change on Mainland China. While such a correlation may be true for China, he noted that war and climate have not been particularly linked in India. Commenting on the role of the military in climate change, Col. Gautam emphasized the role of the Indian Army in tackling the issue of climate change. Not only has the Indian Army endeavoured to reduce Halon use in military hardware because of its Ozone depleting properties, it has also raised eight battalions that have come to constitute an ecological taskforce. Apart from these measures, Col. Gautam also pointed out that research towards Carbon-neutral technology is ongoing and that the Indian Army’s traditions of frugality ensure that energy intense facilities like air conditioning are maintained for equipment rather than for personnel.

    On the issue of climate change and Tibet, Col. Gautam spoke of two processes that have contributed to the problem. The first was that of emissions by the global community and the second was the policy of rapid development followed by the Chinese government in Tibet. There is a difference of perception in Sino-Tibetan discourse over the capitalist model of economic development being undertaken by China, which is at variance with the cultural practices of Tibetans informed and regulated as they are by the Buddhist values of oneness with nature. Nomadism is also fundamental to the preservation of the ecology of Tibet. The Chinese policy of encouraging the influx of non-Tibetans, greater than the sustainable carrying capacity of Tibet, is enhancing the danger of an ecological meltdown. The demographic changes in Tibet brought about by the Chinese government’s policies have had a deleterious effect on the ecology of the Tibetan Plateau. The Dalai Lama’s Government in exile has proposed a peace plan for Tibet that suggests a reform of China’s population policy in the region which could help tackle environmental degradation in Tibet. Col. Gautam stressed the importance of Tibetan glaciers as the source of river waters in non-monsoon season and the implications of this on South Asian security. He postulated that Tibetan glaciers form the third largest water resource in the world and given that there are ten rivers that emanate from Tibet to the Indian sub continent and South East Asia, there is no denying that Tibet is, if not a global commons, then certainly a regional commons.

    Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha emphasized the hydrological profile of the region. He stated that the sub-continent is often looked at only in terms of borders and disputes but the hydrological profile is often overlooked. The fact is that all states are connected by rivers in the region, a condition that possesses elements of both conflict and co-operation. Dr. Sinha acknowledged that due to its unique geographical position, since major rivers to South and South East Asia flow from Tibet, there can be no denying Tibet’s importance. At the same time, however, he noted that while neighbouring states may have concerns over Tibetan waters, the Chinese themselves were within their sovereign rights to exploit the natural resources of Tibet. Dr. Sinha underlined India’s unique position as a “middle” riparian with reference to Tibetan waters. As an upper riparian, India has many disputes with neighbouring states over river waters, though it is its position as a “middle” riparian that India would need to emphasize with its neighbours. There exist many examples in the form of the Indus River Water Treaty and water sharing agreements between Bangladesh and India that could be useful in discussions on Tibetan waters as well. Dr. Sinha stressed that China’s rampant exploitation of Tibetan waters is a problem that needs to be discussed, though the need is to avoid brinkmanship and facilitate greater co-operation.

    Ms. Chang suggested that India could involve the SAARC in negotiating or discussing water issues with China. It was also suggested that India could work towards a consensus with Central Asian states and Russia in discussing water issues with China. Mr. Lin enquired about India’s prospects for food security in the future and the state of China’s agricultural production was also mentioned. In response to questions on the state of India’s agriculture production, technological innovation in the form of drip irrigation, the under utilized resources of north eastern India and the debate on genetically modified crops were alluded to. Subsequent discussion touched upon the domestic political situation in Taiwan and the recently signed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between Taiwan and Mainland China.

    Report prepared by Rukmani Gupta, Associate Fellow, IDSA