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China non-committal on sharing data on dams

Anirban Bhaumik, NEW DELHI, May 20, 2013, DHNS: 2:00 IST

Li's maiden visit: Beijing agrees to expand cooperation over Brahmaputra issue

Lighter moment: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj at a meeting in New Delhi on Monday. PTI
China on Monday did not commit itself to sharing information on its hydro-electric projects on the Brahmaputra with India, but agreed to expand bilateral cooperation on trans-border rivers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang India’s concerns about downstream impact of the hydro-electric projects China is building or planning to build on the Brahmaputra and other common rivers in the upper reaches in Tibet.

He also stressed that the existing bilateral mechanism could be expanded for sharing information on development projects on trans-border rivers.

“It would be useful for the mandate of our Expert Level Mechanism to be expanded to include information sharing on upstream development projects on these rivers,” Singh said addressing the media jointly with Li.

Li did not respond specifically to Singh’s proposal, but said India and China should appropriately handle cooperation on issues involving trans-border rivers.

In the joint statement issued after the meeting between the two leaders, Beijing and New Delhi referred to the existing mechanism and agreed to “further strengthen cooperation on trans-border rivers,” albeit without making any specific commitment for sharing information on development projects.

The prime minister had earlier made a similar proposal when he had a bilateral meeting with new Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Durban last March.

“It would also be useful for India and China to collaborate on a better understanding of the stresses on our shared Himalayan ecosystem,” said Singh.

India’s envoy to China S Jaishankar later told journalists that Chinese premier responded “sympathetically” when the prime minister expressed New Delhi’s concerns over Beijing’s plans to build dams for hydro-electric projects in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra.

India and China in 2006 set up a joint expert level mechanism to discuss interaction and cooperation on provision of flood season hydrological data, emergency management and other issues regarding trans-border rivers.

Amid growing concerns over Beijing’s plan to build new hydro-electric projects on the Yarlung Tsangpo (as the Brahmaputra is known in China) in Tibet, New Delhi has been pushing Beijing to expand the mechanism to include sharing of information on development projects on the rivers.

Yarlung Tsangpo, a 1,700 km long river, originates at Jima Yangzong glacier near Mount Kailash in southwestern Tibet and flows into Arunachal Pradesh, where it is known as the Siang and Dihang, and then into Assam as the Brahmaputra. It later flows into Bangladesh.

China has since 2010 been building a 510 MW hydropower project on the Yarlung Tsangpo at Zangmu in Tibet Autonomous Region. The State Council of China recently gave go-ahead to three new hydropower dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo at Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu.

Beijing’s plans to build dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo triggered concerns in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam over possible impact of the proposed projects on flow of water in the downstream.

Claiming that the new dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo would not have any impact on flow of water to downstream areas in India, Beijing has been reassuring New Delhi that the run-of-the-river hydropower projects would not come in the way of the flood control and disaster reduction efforts in the lower reaches and would not disturb the ecological balance.

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