Examining China's Hydro-Behaviour: Peaceful or Assertive?

Dr Uttam Kumar Sinha is Senior Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 2012

    China is a thirsty country desperately in need of water—a lot of it. In order to meet its water and energy requirements in the densely populated and fertile northern plains, it is successively making interventions in the Tibetan rivers in the southern part through dams and diversions. While China is well within its riparian rights to do so, a set of externalities involving the principles of water-sharing and lower riparian needs—stretching from Afghanistan to Vietnam—raise concerns. Politically controlling Tibet and thereby having control over the mighty rivers that originate there allows Beijing to overcome its uneven water distribution but also importantly gives its leaders strategic width and diplomatic clout for dealing with its neighbours. Based on the theoretical framework of power and hydro-hegemony this article examines how China's hydro-behaviour on the Brahmaputra (Yarlung Ysangpo) could impact power relations with India and what India's counter-hydro-hegemony strategy should be.