August 2, 2011

Water Wars and China's Control of the Tibetan Plateau

In a new book, Water Wars: Asia's New Battleground, the Indian analyst Brahma Chellaney examines the growing struggle for water resources in Asia, pitting China against other nations, from Afghanistan to Vietnam, dependent on the waters of the Tibetan Plateau. In the summary of Gideon Rachman of the FT:
Chellaney points out that the rise of an Asian middle class, combined with urbanisation and global warming, is putting an enormous strain on Asia’s supply of water. Taken together, China and India are “home to 37 per cent of the world’s population, but have to make do with 10.8 per cent of the world’s water”. India’s position is particularly vulnerable because so much of its water flows into the country from the Tibetan plateau that lies within the borders of the People’s Republic of China. As Chellaney points out, this is not an issue that concerns India alone: “The big issue in Asia ... is whether China will exploit its control of the Tibetan Plateau to increasingly siphon off for its own use the waters of the international rivers that are the lifeblood of the countries located in a contiguous arc from Vietnam to Afghanistan.” The giant dams that China is building on the international rivers flowing out of Tibet are a particular source of anxiety.
Chellaney laments what he regards as India’s folly in recognising Chinese sovereignty (as opposed to de facto control) over Tibet. This, he believes, has gravely damaged India’s ability to mount legal objections to China’s water projects. Under the circumstances, this rather hawkish commentator is left advocating “preventive diplomacy” as the best way of avoiding “water wars” in Asia.
Circle of Blue, a website reporting on the global water crisis (and from which the above map is taken), has further detail on the clashes pitting China against the nations to its south.

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