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China-India Water Disputes: Two Major Misperceptions Revisited – Analysis

The Sino-India 'water wars’ narrative has been overblown and there is a need for a better understanding of China’s intent.

For years, Indian security analysts, most notably Dr. Brahma Chellaney, have been warning of the coming water wars between India and China. While water issues could emerge as a major threat to Sino-India relations given rapidly rising demand, competing water usages and threats from climate change, the 'water wars’ narrative has been overblown.

Furthermore, to address growing water challenges and manage the potential water disputes between two countries, there is an urgent need for a better understanding of China’s intent and Sino-Indian disputes need to be re-examined in terms of two misperceptions: the Grand Western Water Diversion Plan and China as an uncooperative water hegemon.

The Grand Western Water Diversion Plan

The Grand Western Water Diversion plan is a radical water diversion project proposed by the Chinese water expert-Guo Kai. It intends to divert water from the upstream sections of six rivers in southwestern China, including the Brahmaputra River – which flows into India – to the dry areas of northern China. It is believed that if the water is diverted, the water levels of the Brahmaputra will drop significantly, affecting millions in India’s Northeastern region.

At first glance, it seems that India’s fear is reasonable. Given China’s acute water shortage problem, China could be motivated to divert waters from transboundary waters. Next, based on China’s track record, mega water projects such as the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Diversion project seem to be the Chinese approach to address its domestic water problems. However, it is a serious mistake to believe that the Chinese government would implement the plan given the following reasons:

For the complete article, please see Eurasia Review.