The Chinese government on Tuesday indicated it would not divert the waters of the Brahmaputra river, saying it would take into “full consideration” the interests of downstream countries in taking forward any development projects on the river.
Chinese hydropower experts have also ruled out any plan to divert the river's waters in the near future, describing proposals from some scholars to direct the flow of the river to China's arid northwest as unfeasible.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in response to a question on India's concerns about a diversion plan that China adopted “a responsible attitude towards the development of cross border water resources.”
“We adopt a policy that protection goes together with development, and take into full consideration the interests of downstream countries,” Mr. Hong said.
Recent media reports in India suggested China was considering a plan to divert the river's waters, citing comments from Wang Guangqian, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
But other experts The Hindu spoke to said the government had not considered Mr. Wang's – and others' – proposals to divert the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet, citing the heavy costs involved and technical difficulties of such a project.
They stressed Mr. Wang's proposal was not new — he had proposed a diversion plan as early as in 2001.
Wang Shucheng, former Water Resources Minister, ruled out the plan, describing it as unfeasible and unnecessary.
But Mr. Wang Guangqian, who is also the director of Tsinghua University's State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering, and other scientists have argued that the project was feasible with recent technological advancements, and was no longer avoidable in the light of strained resources across much of northern China.
Mr. Wang's plan dates back to a 1990 proposal by another water resources expert, Guo Kai, who called for a project to divert 201 billion cubic metres of water from the Brahmaputra to the Yellow River every year, according to the website China Dialogue, which reports on environmental issues.
The government had not considered any proposal to divert the river's waters, according to Zhang Boting, the deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Society of Hydropower Engineers, leading the calls for developing the river. While diversion plans have not won official approval, there is growing consensus for developing hydropower projects in the upper reaches.
Mr. Zhang and other scientists are calling on the government to accelerate suspended plans to build 28 run of the river hydropower stations to help address a record power shortage, as The Hindu reported on June 11.
Among the proposed projects is a 38-gigawatt dam at the “Great Bend” at Motuo, where the river begins its journey towards India. Mr. Zhang said the dams would be built only to generate power and neither divert the river's waters nor store them for irrigation. But environmental groups say even large hydropower projects could have a negative impact on India, affecting both the flow as well as the river's fragile ecosystem.
In November, China began work on its first major hydropower project on the river, a 510-MW project at Zangmu, which will come into operation in 2014. Mr. Zhang said the Zangmu project was an exception, and China had not yet approved a comprehensive plan to take forward other projects.
Indian and Chinese officials have held talks on China's plans for the Brahmaputra, and also set up a joint working group mechanism to cooperate on trans-boundary water issues. But experts say the absence of a water-sharing agreement means India has few means to verify Chinese claims, and has few options besides raising the issue in regular bilateral talks.