China on Wednesday pledged to continue data sharing of Brahmaputra and Sutlej waters, marking another confidence building step between the two countries in the post-Doklam phase.
The decision was taken during the 11th meeting of the India-China Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) on Trans-border Rivers. The two-day meeting began on March 26 in Hangzhou.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said in response to a question during his routine briefing that regarding hydrological information, both sides “agreed to continue with such cooperation on the grounds of humanitarian principles, and on the basis of bilateral relations, China will continue with its cooperation with the Indian side on the provision of hydrological information and emergency response cooperation”.
The data on water flows in both rivers is shared during the monsoons, to predict flooding, mainly in the northeast. It has been resumed after a gap of one year, when ties between the two countries had been strained due to the military standoff at the Doklam plateau.
On March 14, in response to a Lok Sabha question, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that the Chinese side “did not provide the hydrological information with respect to either of the two rivers in 2017”.
She added: “This issue has been taken up with the Chinese side, who has conveyed that the non-provision of data was due to technical reasons.”
The Chinese have been building dams on the Brahmaputra, including the Zangmu barrage. But they say that these dams are not used for storing water — a downstream concern in Bangladesh and India--but for generating hydro-electricity alone.
An Indian embassy press statement on Wednesday said that both sides also reviewed the report on how data provided by China on the two rivers was being utilised.
The Indian delgation at the talks was led by Teerath Singh Mehra, Commissioner (B&B), Ministry of Water Resources and the Chinese side by Yu Xingjun, Consul, Department of International Cooperation Science and Technology, Ministry of Water Resources.
Analysts point out that the resumption of water sharing data is in tune with a series of steps that are being taken to reboot India-China post-Doklam ties, following talks between the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Xiamen BRICS summit in September. The two leaders will also meet in June in Qingdao — the venue of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.
In preparation of the Qingdao conclave, Ms. Swaraj is arriving in Beijing on April 23. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is also expected to arrive in the Chinese capital next month.