India-China Hydropower Battle: Who Will Win?

The year 2020 saw multiple instances of standoff between China and India, primarily in the Leh-Laddakh region. The two countries have had a stream of differences on border issues, including the North East, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. There is speculation that the fight now has gone beyond the actual battlefield to energy infrastructure and water supply, with hydropower at the forefront.

Recently, China announced it is working on a massive hydropower project as a part of its 14th Five Year Plan (2021-25) in Medog county of Tibet. In the last week of November 2020, the president of Power Construction Corporation of China, which is a Chinese government-owned company, announced plans to develop a hydroelectric project of mammoth proportions of up to 60 Gigawatts (GW). This project will be executed on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo river, commonly known as the Brahmaputra river in India.

China says the project will help the country realize its goal of reaching a carbon emission peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. They claim this project is three times bigger than the existing three gorges dam project.

The Chinese government says this will push their energy economy towards renewables, helping make it a green energy nation. Despite China’s claims, some experts are of the view that this is hydropower and water supply warfare, while some others say the timing of this project amidst standoff period is a mere coincidence.

Whatever may be the agenda, this project challenges the water security of India, given that India lies downstream of the Bhramaputra river, where this project will be executed.

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