BEIJING: At a time when India is reviewing the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan, China has blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra River in Tibet as part of the construction of its “most expensive” hydro project.
China’s action could cause concern in India as it may impact water flows into the lower riparian countries.
The Lalho project on Xiabuqu River, a tributary of Yarlung Zangbo (the Tibetan name for Brahmaputra), in Xigaze in Tibet involves an investment of $740 million, Zhang Yunbao, the head of the project’s administration bureau, was quoted as saying by Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency on Saturday.
Terming it the “most expensive project”, the report said the project, whose construction began in June 2014, was scheduled to be completed in 2019.
It is not clear yet what impact the blockade of the river will have on the flow of water from the Brahmaputra into the lower riparian countries like India and Bangladesh as a result.
Last year, China operationalised the $1.5 billion Zam Hydropower Station, the largest in Tibet, built on the Brahmaputra River, which has raised concerns in India.
But China has been maintaining that it has taken into consideration India’s concerns and allayed apprehensions of restricting the flow of water, saying its dams are run of the river projects not designed to hold water.
The outline of China’s 12th Five Year Plan indicates that three more hydropower projects on the mainstream of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet autonomous region have been approved for implementation.
In March, Union Minister of State for Water Resources Sanwar Lal Jat said in a statement that India had expressed its concerns to China about the likely impact of the dams.
While there is no water treaty between the countries, India and China established an Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) on trans-border rivers and in October 2013 the two governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers under which Beijing provides data to India on the water flows.
The blockade of the Brahmaputra River tributary comes at a time when India’s reported decision to suspend talks with Pakistan under Indus Water Treaty as part of its efforts to hit back at Pakistan in the aftermath of the Uri attack.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang gave a guarded reply when asked on September 27 about India’s reported move.
“As a friendly neighbour to both India and Pakistan, China hopes that India and Pakistan can properly address disputes and improve relations through dialogue and consultation, maintain and enhance all-round cooperation and join hands to promote regional peace, stability, and development,” Shuang said. Some of the rivers under the Indus Water Treaty originate in China.
Meanwhile, China said its technical hold on India’s move to get Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar designated a terrorist by the United Nations had been extended by six months, days before its expiry.
The Chinese technical hold was set to lapse on Monday, and had China not raised further objection, the resolution designating Azhar as a terrorist could have stood passed automatically.
“The technical hold on India’s listing application submitted to the 1267 Committee in March, 2016 has already been extended,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
“There are still different views on India’s listing application. The extended technical hold on it will allow more time for the committee to deliberate on the matter and for relevant parties to have further consultations,” Geng said.
On March 31 this year, China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, had blocked India’s move to put a ban on the Jaish leader who is suspected to have plotted the attack on a military installation in Pathankot in January, under the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council.
China was the only member in the 15-nation UN organ to put on hold India’s application while 14 other members supported it. India wants Azhar on the 1267 sanctions list, which would mean assets’ freeze and travel ban on him.
Geng said the 1267 Committee of the UN Security Council “organises its work as mandated by relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”
“China always maintains that on the listing matter, the 1267 Committee should stick to the main principles of objectivity, impartiality and professionalism, base its judgments on solid evidence and decide upon consensus among the members of the Security Council,” he said in a written reply to a question.
After the decision, the hold now has been extended in the midst of India-Pakistan tension over the Uri terrorist attack, which was blamed on the Jaish-e-Muhammad.
China’s technical hold coupled with its move to block India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) cast a shadow on the Sino-India ties. Both the countries have held several rounds of talks on the issues in recent months.
China’s move to extend the technical hold comes ahead of the expected meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Goa during the BRICS Summit on October 15-16.
In June last year, China blocked India’s demand for taking action under the Security Council’s anti-terrorism resolutions against Pakistan for releasing Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi — the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Sources have previously said India is not alone in its bid to get Azhar listed as a terrorist as the US, the UK and France had “co-sponsored” the resolution seeking Azhar’s listing.
India has repeatedly criticised the UN Sanctions Committee for its failure to designate terrorists for proscribing terrorist groups but not those heading them.
India accused the UN sanctions committee of taking a “selective approach” in tackling terrorism when its application was put on hold.