Saturday, March 25th, 2023 11:04:16

The Brahmaputra Diversion Is Not Dropped By China

Updated: March 8, 2014 3:07 pm

Mr. Wei Wei, China’s Ambassador to India in an op-ed in a ‘national’ newspaper explained thus the ‘significance of 2014”. He said: “2014 is ‘the Year of Friendly Exchanges’ between China and India. It is also the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (Panchsheel).”

The Ambassador added: “The first is to further deepen mutual trust and expand a mutually beneficial and pragmatic partnership. The international situation is undergoing profound changes while the global economy is facing a depth adjustment. Against this backdrop, China and India should deepen mutual trust in a spirit of treating each other with sincerity as well as expand our pragmatic cooperation in political, economic, military, cultural and other fields with a broader vision and increasing efforts.” It sounds good, but can India really trust China? The answer is ‘no’.

Take the example of trans-boundary rivers. After During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing in October 2013, the Chinese and Indian Ministries of Water Resources inked a MoU on Strengthening Cooperation on Trans-border Rivers. The Memorandum says: “The Chinese side agreed to extend the data provision period of the Brahmaputra River [Yarlung Tsangpo].”

The Indian side was delighted; China had generously increased the period for providing hydrological information on the Brahmaputra River from May 15 (instead of June 1) to October 15 of the same year.

Frankly, this amounts to little when there was not a word about the planned diversion of the Brahmaputra’s waters. Of course, South Block can argue that the project has been denied by China.

In October 2011, Jiao Yong, China’s vice minister of water resources, told a press conference in Beijing that although there was a demand in China to use waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), “considering the technical difficulties, the actual need of diversion and the possible impact on the environment and state-to-state relations, the Chinese government has no plan to conduct any diversification project in this river”.

A month earlier, returning from the UN General Assembly on September 27, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in one of high-flying interactions with the media affirmed: “I have myself raised this issue with both the President as well as the Prime Minister of China on a number of occasions. They have assured us that they are not doing anything which will be detrimental to the interests of India.”

Already in 2006, the Water Resource Minister, Wang Shucheng had publicly stated that the proposal was “unnecessary, unfeasible and unscientific. There is no need for such dramatic and unscientific projects.”

Despite all this, China recently posted on the website of the Yellow River Conservancy Commission of the same Ministry of Water Resources of China, an article detailing the proposed project.

It describes in great detail the phaoronic Great Western Water Diversion and the Yellow River Waterway Corridor.This makes it difficult for India to trust China.

The article mentions a preliminary feasibility study prepared by officials of the Ministry of Water Resources in Beijing. The idea of the Chinese engineers is to divert 150 billion cubic meters of water and ‘push’ these waters into the drying (and dying) Yellow River in order to irrigate northern China.

The Water Diversion Project would collect waters from 6 rivers: Yarlung Tsangpo (later known as Siang in Arunachal and Brahmaputra in Assam), Salween, Mekong and Yangtze, Yalung and Dadu rivers and before reaching the upper reaches of the Yellow River.

The website of the Chinese ministry gives details: some 50 billion m3 would be diverted from the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra (about 30% of the average annual runoff of 165.4 billion m3).

To my knowledge, it is the first time that a ‘preliminary’ study appears on a Government website with such details.

In the 1990s, a book by Li Ling, Tibetan Waters will save China was circulated amongst experts in China. Li and his acolyte Guo Kai, a retired PLA General had suggested a Shuotian Canal (‘Shuotian’ is a contraction of Shuomatan in Central Tibet, the origin of the canal and the city of Tianjing at the other end). This project would have diverted 206 billion m3 of water from Tibet to northern China.

According to Li Ling, in one strike, the recurrent floods of the Yellow River would be eradicated; inland water transport in north China would restart and the floods in Bangladesh and India would be prevented. The route suggested by Li Ling was however different from the one mentioned on the website of the Chinese Ministry of Water Resource.

The Chinese engineers bank now on two tributaries of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the Palung Tsangpo and Yigong Tsangpo through which the Yarlung Tsangpo’s waters could be ‘pushed’ eastward along the Sichuan-Tibet highway (China National Highway 318, running from Shanghai to the China-Nepal border) through the Baxoi County of Chamdo Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The energy produced by six dams in Lengda, Zhongda, Langzhen, Jiexu, Jiacha and Zangmu (already under construction) will be used to push the diverted waters eastwards. Further there is always the possibility to have a mega ‘run of river’ dam in the Great Bend of the Brahmaputra which would produce more than enough energy to send the Yarlung Tsangpo’s waters across the mountain ranges (through long tunnels).

The diversion would meet the Salween, (one of the three parallel rivers, with the Mekong and the Yangtze) and proceed to Xiaya following the Chamdo-Tibet Highway.

The Sanjiang (Three Rivers) Water Transfer would then follow the Sichuan-Tibet highway before reaching Dege and the confluence with the Upper Yangtze. Now, the ‘four rivers’ could run along the Sichuan-Tibet highway through the Chola Mountains of Western Sichuan and via Garze reach the confluence with the Yalung River. There would now be five rivers (Yarlung Tsangpo, Salween, Yangtze, Mekong, and Yalung). The water transfer would then proceed along the Sichuan-Tibet highway, via Dadu in Luhuo County.

After the confluence with the Dadu River, it would finally shoot off north along the highway through Zamtang of Ngaba prefecture before reaching the Yellow River which would be crossed to reach the Yellow River Ma Chu Great Bend where a reservoir would regulate the flow of the river. ‘Maqu’ or ‘Ma chu’ (‘River of the Peacock’ in Tibetan) is the local name of the Yellow River.

For the first time the grandiose scheme has seriously been studied.

How feasible is it to realize this mega project? It is impossible to say.

The first leg, before the transfer reaches the Salween, seems impossible, but, in this case, why do the Chinese engineers keep working on the ‘feasibility’ of such a megalomaniac scheme? And why tell Indian diplomats (and the Prime Minister) that it has been shelved?

Let us come back to the ‘feasibility’ of diverting the Yarlung Tsango/Brahmaputra towards northern China. At the end of the 1980s till the end of the 1990s, experts agreed that the project to ‘push water up’ and cross the mountain ranges was impossible, unless Beijing decided to use some sorts of small nuclear devices (or PNE, Peaceful Nuclear Explosions).

Twenty years down the line, the situation has changed. China has made tremendous progress in drilling tunnels. It is perhaps one of the reasons why the project has recently resurfaced.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that “China Considers Longest Underwater Tunnel under Bohai Sea”.

The financial publication explained: “China may invest US $ 36 billion to build the world’s longest tunnel beneath the Bohai Sea to connect the northeastern city of Dalian to Yantai in Shandong province.” It quotes The China Daily reporting: “proposals for the 123-kilometre tunnel, which is targeted for completion in 2026, may be submitted to the central government in April.” The Chinese newspaper cites Wang Mengshu, an engineer working on the project: “A feasibility study taking two to three years could begin as early as 2015.”

The proposed tunnel would become the longest in the world (twice the length of Japan’s Seikan Tunnel, which is 53.9 kms long). Bloomberg asserted: “The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions in past years to build infrastructure to spur growth, which may be more critical with gross domestic product forecast by economists to expand this year at the slowest pace since 1990.”

Can you imagine that the tunnel (if constructed) would cut the travel time between Dalian and Yantai to 40 minutes (from about eight hours by ferry currently and 1,400 km by road).

My point is that if China has the technology to bore such a tunnel under the Bohai Sea, it might be able to perform a similar feat around the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo, in which case the new avatar of the Great Western Water Diversion may not be an utopia as thought earlier.

One issue has however not been mentioned, it is the fate of the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (SNNR), also known as the Three Rivers Nature Reserve.

Located on the Tibetan Plateau (in today’s Qinghai province), the ‘Reserve’ monitors the headwaters of the Yellow River, the Yangtze, and the Mekong. The SNNR has been established to protect the fragile environment around the sources of these rivers. The reserve is divided in 18 subareas, each containing three zones. There are, of course, many controversial aspects in this project, but its objective would be the first causality if the mega diversion was allowed to happen.

One point is sure, Beijing has not abandoned the idea to divert the Brahmaputra, simply because China is thirsty.

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