China on Friday rejected reports in India suggesting that the dam it is building upstream on the Brahmaputra river was causing its lower reaches to dry up, and reiterated its commitment to Indian officials that it had neither embarked on any diversion projects nor built any large dams in Tibet.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters that China had not developed any new projects, besides the Zangmu dam on the river's middle reaches, work on which began in 2010 and which is a run-of-the-river project that would have minimal impact downstream.
“Our projects have not affected the lower stream regions,” he said. “Overall, the utilisation of Chinese side of the Tsangpo River is very low.”
Mr. Hong also pointed to statements made by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and other officials in New Delhi rejecting suggestions from officials in Arunachal Pradesh that the drying up of the Siang river, as it is known in the State, was the result of a Chinese diversion project. He said the Zangmu dam was the only project that China had built on the Yarlung Tsangpo, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet.
Chinese officials and engineers have repeatedly ruled out diversion projects, citing the difficult terrain of the Tibetan plateau. Last year, Chinese Vice Minister of Water Resources Jiao Yong said China had no plans to divert the river considering “technical difficulties, environmental impacts and state relations”.
Officials and analysts say run-of-the-river projects, such as the one at Zangmu, will not result in any significant impact downstream as the dams do not store much water. Mr. Hong said the Zangmu dam was not of a large capacity and had no need for storage of water.
He noted that China was only using one per cent of the river's resources. A number of hydropower lobby groups have, however, pressured the Central government to give the green light for long-pending proposals on a number of other dam projects. As many as 28 dams have been proposed on the Tsangpo, including a 38-gigawatt plant at Motuo where the Brahmaputra begins its course towards India. Work has not started on any of the projects, officials have said.
Reports earlier this week quoting officials in Arunachal Pradesh expressing concerns about the Siang appeared just as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was in New Delhi for talks. Mr. Hong did not say if the issue came up during his visit, but described his trip as fruitful. He said both countries had agreed on plans to mark 2012 as a year of friendship by promoting cooperation “across the board” and sending a positive signal to the rest of the world.
Exchanges between political parties and militaries would be increased to boost strategic and political trust. Negotiations on the long-running boundary dispute would also be promoted, particularly through the newly-set up consultation and coordination mechanism on border affairs, which is expected to hold its first meeting in Beijing later this month.