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Managing the Rise of a Hydro-Hegemon in Asia: China’s Strategic Interests in the Yarlung-Tsangpo River

Jesper Svensson was an Intern with IDSA`s Non-traditional Security Cluster from March to June 2011. He is currently studying Chinese at Zhejiang University in China.
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  • IDSA Occasional Paper No. 23
    2012

    This Paper examines the Sino-Indian water-relations in Yarlung-Tsangpo/Brahmaputra river in order to suggest policy implications for India. Though the Great Plan to divert water from the Yarlung-Tsangpo to the Yellow River has been dismissed or ignored by all legitimate academic institutions in China, it has been reinforced throughout this Paper that a strong water demand management policy, combined with the South-to-North Water Diversion Project will be unable to solve the water shortage crisis of the North China Plain. However, it argues that if national interest of China demands major water diversion projects in Tibet, it will undertake such projects if the price of transferred water is cheaper than conservation or getting water from the sea. Although Chinese scholars have taken an initiative to cooperate with India on smaller and less contentious water issues, Beijing has not been transparent to its lower riparians given the fact that China has started preliminary work on building a 38 gigawatt dam at the Great Bend of Yarlung-Tsangpo/Brahmaputra. To address China´s position as a negative hydro-hegemon, a two-step strategy seems appropriate: widen the field of cooperation with less contentious water issues so that it creates ”spillover” effect into greater benefits for China, while trying to bring Bangladesh into the negotiations over the Yarlung-Tsangpo/Brahmaputra.

    The Paper examines China´s general performance as a hydro-hegemon in Asia, presents the case study on China´s hydro-behaviour in the Yarlung-Tsangpo river basin, and outlines a framework for promoting trans-boundary watercooperation.

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