The Chinese government on Thursday said it would not undertake dam projects on the Brahmaputra river that would damage India’s interests, amid reports that China was starting construction of a hydropower project on the river.

“China is a responsible country and will not do anything to damage the interests of others,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said when asked about China’s plans to build dams on the Brahmaputra, or the Yarlung-Tsangpo as it is known in Tibet. The river flows 1,625 km in Tibet before it enters India.

Project at Zangmu

In March, a 1.14 billion Yuan contract was awarded to the Gezhouba Corporation, one of China’s biggest engineering and construction companies, to build a hydropower project at Zangmu in Tibet, along the Yarlung-Tsangpo. Initial work is expected to commence soon, and the project will be completed by December 2015, officials said.

Experts say run of the river hydropower projects such as the one at Zangmu, which do not involve substantial diversion of a river’s waters, will not significantly impact areas in India downstream.

“The point where they were making a dam is 1,100 kilometres away from our boundary. It’s a small dam and no reservoir as such. They already have such 15 dams there which they are using for local purposes,” Water Resources Minister P.K Bansal said on Thursday in New Delhi, PTI reported.

He said while run of the river projects were China’s right to pursue, India’s concern was there should not be diversion in existing flow exceeding 79 BCM (billion cubic metres). “There is no evidence of any such diversion so far,” Mr. Bansal said.

China has also announced plans to build a dam on the “great bend” of the Brahmaputra, further down the river from Zangmu, where the river changes direction and begins its flow into India.

This plan involves substantial diversion of the river’s waters, and is part of Beijing’s $62 billion “South to North Water Diversion” project which envisages diverting waters from the Brahmaputra to the drought-affected northern areas of the country.

Feasibility studies

The plan has been grounded in delays as a result of soaring costs, and is more than five years behind schedule. Work has not started on the project, and feasibility studies have not yet been completed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first raised India’s concerns about this project when he met Chinese President Hu Jintao here last year. He also raised the issue when he met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Thailand last month. China has assured India that it will not begin work on any diversion project without first notifying New Delhi through the joint working group mechanism the two countries have set up to discuss water-sharing issues.

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