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China’s hydropower strategy: threats, challenges and responses

NEW DELHI-   The Chinese government plans to construct a ‘super hydropower dam’ on the Yarlung Tsangpo river in its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25). The report claimed that the hydropower dam would be “meaningful for the environment, national security, living standards and international cooperation.” In reality though, the ongoing excessive construction on the Yarlung Tsangpo is neither eco-friendly nor is it beneficial for the local community. It is part of a Chinese state-engineered, long-term preparation for a mass influx of Chinese migrants into the Kongpo region for permanent settlement. Such an eventuality could cause irreversible damage to the local ecology, diminish local Tibetan identity and greatly destabilize the hydrological balance across northeastern India.

To bring the attention of the global community and stir a debate on the same, New Delhi based international affairs observer group Red Lantern Analytica (RLA) organized an Expert Panel Webinar on the topic ‘Decoding China’s Hydropower Strategy: Threats, Challenges and Responses’ on February 6, 2021. The panel featured former Union minister and current MLA from Arunachal Pradesh Mr. Ninong Ering and the list of eminent speakers included – Research Professor of Latin American studies at U.S. Army war college Dr. Evan Ellis; Geopolitics and International relations expert from MAHE Dr. Dhansree Jayaram; Assistant Professor at Jindal Global University Dr. Sriparna Pathak; and Senior Journalist from The Dawnlit Post, Mr. Ranju Dodum. The webinar was moderated by Mr. Gaurav Dasgupta (Practising Counsel at Guwahati and Delhi High Courts). Mr. Dasgupta stressed on the need to discuss the issue at hand, given its propensity and the effect it will have on our borders.

RLA’s founder Abhishek Ranjan opened the webinar by introducing the moderators and referred to the need to address the hydropower strategy of China which is being designed and used against India in every aspect.

Mr. Ninong Ering stressed upon the need for adequate attention to the ‘Water Bomb’ being engineered by China against India by building many dams on the Tsang-Ho and other tributary rivers in occupied Tibet. He argued that the ecological imbalance created in the Brahmputra basin region of India will be huge and addressing this issue is the need of the hour. He referred to various recent instances of floods in Arunachal Pradesh; the most devastating being in 2017 when the whole Siang River turned black due to alleged Chinese activities. He expressed his concern for the Chinese tactics of using the river as a medium to keep India in check while official Communist propaganda mouthpiece of China; Global Times has reported on plans to divert whole rivers in the Occupied Tibet region to the Qinqiang region of China.

Dr. Evan Ellis addressed the issue by connecting it with Latin America and how the Hydropower Strategy by China was seen in the US. He spoke about the various projects the Chinese Communist party’s infrastructure-building companies have been working on in the Hydropower sector in different countries like Argentina, Ecuador and Cuba. He spoke about the poor safety features incorporated by these Chinese companies. He spoke about the various security breaches observed in these projects from time to time. He also highlighted the fact that various Chinese companies and their contracts were being terminated and given to other companies due to multiple failures in the Construction of Hydropower Plants.

Dr. Sriparna Pathak, through her presentation, elaborated upon the Chinese habit of using ecological features like Rivers as a political tool to dictate terms to its neighbours. A prominent instance in this respect came in 2017, when China refused to share hydrological data with India during the Doklam standoff. It’s worth noting that a MOU was signed by both countries in 2018 with India shelling out 1 Crore rupees annually to China in advance for this very data. She also emphasized that the Himalayan ranges is a highly volatile area with regular Seismic activity and any infrastructure developed in this region including dams with bound to take a hit in the future wrecking havoc and bringing widespread destruction and loss of countless lives. She pressed upon the urgent need for Indian government to voice its concern regarding “Chinese weaponization of rivers” in international forums.

Mr. Ranju Dodum spoke from a journalistic point of view elaborating upon a lack of communication between India and China that has led to various conflicts in the past and may also result in a widespread escalation in the future. He emphasised on discussion between the two countries regarding activities in Tsang-Ho River which directly effects the population living in the Brahmputra basin area and beyond. He spoke about a greater need for Journalistic limelight to be given to Arunachal Pradesh and the plight of its people due to floods becoming an annual affair due to widespread ecological damage to the region due to heavy meddling of China in the occupied Tibet region.

Dr. Dhansree Jayaram emphasised upon the Chinese maintaining tight gripped control on natural resources like rivers. She spoke about the planned projects by China which are already having an ecological consequence on India with things expected to turn south in coming years. She emphasized on development of Indian technologies which might help in fighting off adversities later on. She also covered large scale weather modification project of China with an immediate motive of climate engineering and in turn altering weather of a large geaographical part of China and occupied Tibet. While summing up her points, she covered upon the Chinese tendency to bypass or plainly refuse to comply with international laws and treaties and using their upper hand on natural resources as a bargaining chip in maintaining relations with its neighbouring countries

The remarks were followed by the moderator of the discussion Mr. Gaurav Dasgupta undertaking a Q&A Session covering various dimensions of the topic which were posed by the audience to the panelists. These questions included US policies towards China, Tibet and its issues with regards to India and China.

The webinar closed with a vote of thanks delivered by Ms. Sheetal Sinha (Head of Media and Communications Department of Red Lantern Analytica). While thanking all the panelists for their thought-provoking remarks, Mr. John Nomikos encouraged the members of the panel and the audience to step up and have more discussions like this on World Issues.

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