In 2012, the Government of India stated that the per capita water storage capacity in the country stood at 209 cubic metres (cum), the figure for China was 416 cum. With nearly 98,000 dams/water storage structures of various kinds, China today has the largest network of water storage assets in the world.

Contrary to India, China has consistently invested in creating freshwater storage capacity and it stems from China’s desire to establish global hegemony (Pax Sinica).


Real reason behind China’s huge storage of freshwater

  • To monopolise emerging green technologies —
      • The main objective of the Chinese Communist Party is to establish a domestic chip industry since the US is determined to impose restrictions on chip manufacturing technologies.
      • With huge deposits of rare earth minerals, China wants to maximise the benefits by monopolising emerging green technologies – be it zero-emission vehicles or chip making. However, such industries require huge amounts of freshwater. For example,
          • It is estimated that a large chip fabrication facility can use in excess of 10 million gallons of ultra-pure water per day. This is equivalent to the domestic consumption of a quarter million families.
          • Similarly, extraction of rare earth minerals requires huge amounts of freshwater.
      • Both are essential to the future of the communist party and their vision of Pax Sinica.
  • Climate change – Dwindling water resources —
      • Most of the major rivers of South Asia originate in the Tibetan plateau – the ‘Third Pole’ for water with nearly 46,000 glaciers.
          • According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Tibetan glaciers are melting at the rate of 7% annually and two-thirds of the glaciers on the plateau will be gone by 2050.
          • The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development has revealed that Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra, etc., across the northern India plains would most likely become seasonal rivers in the near future.


How is China gaining control of freshwater?

  • China has dammed almost every major river on the Tibetan plateau, including the Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Sutlej, Shweli and Karnali.
      • For example, Indian satellites confirmed the existence of the Zhangmu dam on the Brahmaputra at the Great Bend from where the river takes a sharp U-turn, forming the world’s deepest gorge, an area reported to have hydropower potential of 38,000 MW.
  • It has unveiled plans to dam the rivers that still remain free flowing, such as the Arun and the Subansiri. Thus, China is engaged in a dam building spree that borders on panic.


Implications for India

  • China is involved in border disputes with almost all its neighbours and as nearly half of the water (48%) from rivers that originate on the Tibetan plateau runs directly into India, this dispute becomes more fierce.
      • For example, during the height of the Doklam crisis (2017), China refused to supply hydrological data to India, underscoring how it was weaponising the sharing of water.
  • The water in the main artery of the Brahmaputra river system, the Siang, turns dirty and grey when the stream enters India from Tibet.
  • Building dams in a fragile ecology like the Himalayas can lead to environmental disasters.
      • For example, the Pareechu Lake burst in Tibet (in 2000 and 2005), causing heavy destruction of livelihoods, infrastructure and socio-economic assets downstream, particularly in Kinnaur and Shimla districts of Himachal Pradesh.



China has plans to occupy all important watersheds in the Himalayas. Doklam, Galwan are well-planned moves towards a creeping acquisition of territories and the high points of the Himalayan watersheds. There is a hidden war already on and India needs to take our heads out of the sand to recognise it.


SourceThe Times of India


QUESTION – The ‘water wars’ that India finds itself enmeshed with China in the Himalayas is not just China weaponising of water against India but also building huge storage capacity for strategic purpose. Discuss the issue in brief and outline its implications for India.