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China builds new dam in Tibet near Indian border

Satellite images of the new dam on the Mabja Zangbo river shared by a geospatial intelligence researcher on Twitter

January 21, 2023 10:07 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:08 am IST - New Delhi

Screenshot of a satellite image posted on Twitter by Damien Symon, an intelligence researcher, shows the construction of a dam by China near the tri-junction with India and Nepal. Photo: Twitter/@detresfa_

Screenshot of a satellite image posted on Twitter by Damien Symon, an intelligence researcher, shows the construction of a dam by China near the tri-junction with India and Nepal. Photo: Twitter/@detresfa_

In a development that is a matter of concern to both India and Nepal, China is constructing a new dam on the Mabja Zangbo river in Tibet, close to the tri-junction, satellite imagery has revealed. The new dam is located around 16 km north of the tri-junction and is opposite the Kalapani area of Uttarakhand, according to sources in the security establishment.

Mabja Zangbo originates in Nagari county of Tibet, flows through Nepal into the Ghaghara river before joining the Ganga in India.

In a tweet on January 19, Damien Symon, a geospatial intelligence researcher at Intel Lab as per his Twitter profile, posted satellite images of the dam’s construction. The images show the activity since May 2021 in the Burang county of Tibet that shares its border with Nepal.

“Since early 2021, China has been constructing a dam on the Mabja Zangbo river just a few kilometres north of the tri-junction border with India and Nepal. While the structure isn’t complete, the project will raise concerns regarding China’s future control on water in the region,” Mr. Symon said in the tweet. The images show the formation of an embankment type dam with a reservoir.

In addition to using water as leverage, the possibility of a military establishment by China near the tri-junction cannot be ruled out as the country had developed the same in the Yarlung Zangbo river near Arunachal Pradesh, the sources said.

A source stated that China could use this dam to not only divert but also store water which could lead to a scarcity in the regions dependent on the Mabja Zangbo river as also lead to lower water levels in rivers such as the Ghaghara and the Karnali in Nepal. Dams close to the border could be used by China to strengthen its claim on the disputed areas in the region, the source added.

The Yarlung Zangbo, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet, originates in the Himalayas in Tibet, enters India in Arunachal Pradesh, passes through Assam and then Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

In 2021, China announced that it would construct a massive dam on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo to generate up to 70 GW of power, three times that of the country’s Three Gorges dam, which is the world’s largest hydropower plant in terms of installed capacity. This was among several other hydropower projects announced by China to generate clean energy and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

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