By Rajan Gupta, International News Writer
After defusing a dangerous border stand-off only 3 week ago, as of September 18, China and India have yet again locked horns, this time in a water dispute.
The catalyst for this water dispute was the two-month long border stand-off that occurred this summer; India had opposed a Chinese attempt to extend a border road onto the plateau between the two countries. The plateau, located between China and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, was disputed between Bhutan and Beijing. While India supported Bhutan’s claim, Beijing was unyielding in its claim to the plateau. After months of posturing, with troops being deployed on both sides, the conflict eventually ended in a statement with both sides withdrawing their forces for the plateau.
This time, however, the two nations are facing off over hydrological data for the Brahmaputra River. Since the river flows downstream from China into India, the two countries have an agreement which requires China to share hydrological data of the river during monsoon season between May 15th and October 15th, according to BBC. However, Delhi scientists have reported receiving no data from the upstream nation.
Beijing has said that its hydrological stations are being upgraded, attributing the delay in data to technical issues. However, the BBC reported that China has continued to share data for the Brahmaputra with Bangladesh, a country directly downstream of India.
In response to the allegations of withholding the data, Chinese spokesperson Geng Shuang said “As regards whether the providing of relevant hydrological data will be resumed, it depends on the progress of the above-mentioned work”. This vagueness has contributed to the rising fear in India that China could affect the river and significantly hurt the countries downstream.
In India, there has been a growing uncertainty and suspicion that China could divert the waters of the Brahmaputra to its dry regions during dry seasons. Delhi has asked for data on the non-monsoonal flows of the river to prevent this, but fears still abound. An unnamed Indian official explained, “We thought we would now be able to convince them to share the hydrological data of the non-monsoon season so that there is no suspicion that they would divert water during lean season. But now we are not getting even the monsoon flow information, this is a worrying sign and it also shows their [China’s] intention”.
If the dispute were to continue, some Indians are even afraid of China releasing an enormous amount of water into the river. Residents of Dibrugarh in Assam, where the river is at its widest, say they have witnessed the water sharply rising and falling in short periods of time. The BBC reports that there have also been “increasing incidents of landslides blocking rivers and unleashing sudden floods in the Himalayas”.
Experts have pointed to this dispute as an example of the growing importance of water in South Asia, highlighting how the natural resource has become a key issue in South Asian geopolitics.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 26th print edition.
Contact Rajan at