China to build another dam on Yarlung Tsangpo

Activists from several environmental and pressure groups in Assamseen protesting against the construction of dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha on the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra on a boat in the river Brahmaputra in Gauhati, India in 2013. Image:  Anupam Nath/AP

DHARAMSALA, 30 Nov: China has announced that it will build a hydropower project on the Brahmaputra, known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan that originates from Tibet and passes to Bangladesh via India. 

“China will ‘implement hydropower exploitation in the downstream of the Yarlung Tsangpo River,’ and this was clearly put forward in the proposals for formulating the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and its long-term goals through 2035 made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China,” Chinese state-run Global Times reported quoting Yan Zhiyong, chairman of the Power Construction Corp of China, or POWERCHINA.

The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035 was adopted at the fifth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, held over 26 – 29  October.

“There is no parallel in history… it will be a historic opportunity for the Chinese hydropower industry,” Yan said at a conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, the report added.

China’s rampant damming of the waters in Tibet, the water tower of Asia has had seriously impacted the downstream countries. India and Bangladesh being a lower riparian state, has rights to the waters of the trans-border rivers under international law and has long expressed their concern over the damming of the river. However, Yan has stated “that the project could serve to maintain water resources and domestic security,” of China.

Though the report did not specify the exact location where the dam will be constructed,  the report noted that speculations about China planning to build a “super hydropower station” in Medog county, where the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon is located, have circulated for years.

The feasibility of the project has so far eluded China but the report highlighted that “the 50-kilometre section of the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon has 70 million kWh that could be developed with a 2,000-meter drop, which equals more than three Three Gorges power stations,” making Beijing’s ambition loud and clear amidst the ongoing Indo-China border tension.

Ten major Asian river systems flow from Tibet into 11 countries: China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan.

At 3,848 km long, Yarlung Tsangpo it is the ninth-largest river in the world by discharge and the 15th longest.

Starting from Zangmu hydroelectric power station, there has been a cascade of dams being built on the Brahmaputra. While Zangmu hydropower project became operational in 2015, three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha on the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra are being developed, media reports said.

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