Implications of China’s Hydro-Hegemony on River Yarlung Tsangpo: Another Lever of China’s Expansionist Tactics into India’s East
PK Khup Hangzo, Associate Fellow, VIF

On 11 March 2021, China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, endorsed a plan to build a ‘super dam’ on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in southeastern Tibet. According to Chinese media reports, the dam will have an installed capacity of around 60 Gigawatt (GW), the world’s largest, and will be built at The Great Bend section of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Nyingchi Prefecture’s Medog County close to the Indian border.

The plan has elicited serious concerns in India as it could adversely impact the flow of water in the Brahmaputra River (as the Yarlung Tsangpo is known in the country). This paper argues that China’s planned construction of dams at The Great Bend and other sections of the Yarlung Tsangpo River are a manifestation of the country’s negative/dominative form of hydro-hegemony and its potential implications for India are understood primarily in hydrological terms. There are fears that the dams may withhold, block or restrict water during the dry seasons leading to reduced water flow in the Brahmaputra River in India. Conversely, excess water released from their reservoir during the wet season may trigger deadly floods in the country.

Chinese dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo River also have potential strategic implications - it could help China consolidate its position along the disputed Sino-Indian border. However, this have received far less attention and remained poorly understood. This paper contends that China’s construction of dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo River, especially on its lower reaches including at The Great Bend section, are an integral part of the country’s assertive infrastructure-driven policy aimed at consolidating its claims over disputed territories such as Arunachal Pradesh. It is therefore imperative that India take cognizance of the potential hydrological as well as strategic implications of Chinese dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo River and bolster its

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