The origin point of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), in Tibet

Water can be a medium of cooperation between the Dragon and the Elephant

Shaofeng Jia

Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

On 30 June 2014 a significant event took place for both China and India at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China. H.E. Mr. Ashok K. Kantha, Ambassador of India to China, and Mr. Liu Ning, Vice Minister from Ministry of Water Resource of China, signed the Implementation Plan on Provision of Hydrological Information of the Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River in Flood Season by China to India. Vice President of India Shri Mohammad Hamid Ansari who paid an official visit to China from June 26 to 30 and Vice President of China Li Yuanchao attended the signing ceremony.

The Implementation Plan firms up corresponding arrangements for extension of the hydrological data provision period by China to India by 15 days, which was agreed by the two sides in the ‘MoU on Strengthening Cooperation on Trans-Border Rivers’ signed in October 2013.

The Implementation Plan also includes technical details of provision of hydrological information such as responsible institutions, data transmission method, frequency and cost settlement, etc. All those arrangements made a clear and fluent hydrological data transmission procedure from China to India.

Hydrological is necessary for assessing flood risk, water resources and habitat alteration of aquatic ecosystems. With no warning, glacier lake outburst and landslide dam breakdown may cause vast damages in Himalayan regions.

The most significant glacier lake outburst flood event since detailed recording started, occurred in Dig Tsho lake at Bhote Kosi in Nepal in 1985, which destroyed a nearly completed small hydropower project, numerous foot-bridges, trekking trails and caused loss of many lives. On 9 April 2000, a huge rapid landslide dammed the Yigong River (China). After two months, on 10 June 2000, the outburst flood from the landslide dam extended 500 km downstream until North-Eastern India causing heavy damages.

The main purpose and benefit of providing hydrological data by upstream countries to downstream countries is the advance warning of floods and giving time for response to and preparation for flood threat.

The first memorandum of hydrological information sharing of Yaluzangbu-Brahmaputra River was signed in January 2001, when Chinese Primer Zhu Rongji paid a state visit to India. The corresponding implementation plan was signed in April 2002 by which China promised to provide flood season hydrological data of 3 gauge stations, including Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia.

In April 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India and signed another memorandum in which China promised to provide hydrological data of Langqen Zangbo / Sutlej River. The Chinese side also responded to India’s concern about the landslide dam that occurred in 2004, upon Parechu in Ali Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and sent professional personnel to monitor closely the development of the situation and study seriously measures to cope with it, and conveyed the relevant information to the Indian side in time (The dam finally outburst in June 2005, caused a transboundary flood in Himachal Pradesh). Both sides further agreed to continue bilateral discussions to finalise at an early date similar arrangements for the Parlung Zangbo and Zayu Qu / Lohit Rivers.

The extension of the hydrological data provision period suggested by China in the newest memorandum on her own initiative, clearly showed China’s good will of cooperation with India.

For countries sharing the same basin, it’s natural for them to have some competition for water resources development, and for upstream countries to have some impacts on downstream countries. In some cases, those competition and impacts may be the factors inducing conflicts, such as the conflicts in Middle East between Israel and Arab countries. But water can be also a media of linking countries together and making them cooperate with each other. A good example is Rhine river in Europe. The regime to control the water quality of the river Rhine is widely rated as successful. The cooperation within Rhine basin was promoted by the policies of the downstream Dutch government, the efforts of upstream riparian states, and the activities of the International Rhine Commission. The case of Rhine river illuminates the importance and success of an appealing strategic vision to promote international river catchment management.

Now not only the flood season hydrological information of Yaluzangbu-Brahmaputra river, but also that of Nangqinzangbu- Sutlej river, now are shared by China with India. In my mind it can be expected that China and India can share more in the future. Furthermore, will come more cooperation of basin management and water resources development for trans-boundary rivers. For example, China and India can cooperate in the rational planning, construction and regulation of hydropower stations of Yaluzangbu-Brahmaputra river. How to balance resources development and environmental protection? How to balance the interests of different parties including different countries, companies, and local communities? Is there possibility to generate electricity in China and send it to India? There are many possibilities for China and India to explore.

China and India have long history of glorious civilization, as well as mutual communication. They can carry forward this excellent tradition and cooperate with each other in modern world. There are many similarities between China and India in today’s global-economic climate. Both are big developing countries, both have over one billion citizens, both have experienced fast economic growth in last 30 years, both have greatly expanded their roles in international trade, and both have stronger and stronger international influence. Especially they have common interests in maintaining the stability of international energy supply sources area and the safety of international marine transportation sea-route. It’s understandable that China and India have many similar standpoints and opinions about international affairs. The development of Sino-India relations is not only in the interest of the two peoples but also conducive to peace and stability in the world. Water can be an important aspect in the broad cooperation fields between China and India.