With Beijing’s ambitious new plan to construct a mega-hydropower plant, tensions between the two Asian giants are expected to rise. The structure would cross the Brahmaputra River until it leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world’s longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres (4,900 feet).

The Tibetan local government signed a “strategic partnership deal” with PowerChina, a state-owned construction company that specialises in hydroelectric projects, in October of last year. A month later, Yan Zhiyong, the CEO of PowerChina, gave the Communist Youth League, China’s ruling party’s youth wing, a sneak peek at the initiative. The “super-dam” however is in a league of its own.

The project in Tibet’s Medog County is projected to outperform the world-record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, generating 300 billion kilowatts of electricity annually. New Delhi is concerned about water security in the downstream Brahmaputra River basin in its northeastern state of Assam and neighbouring regions.

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Yan Zhiyong, chairman of China’s Power Construction Corporation, said the project was included in the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party’s plans for formulating the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and long-term targets through 2035.

The strategically weak Indian states border Tibet in the north and are linked to the rest of India through the Siliguri Corridor, also known as the Chicken’s Neck. New Delhi has not taken lightly Beijing’s renewed attempt to harness one of South Asia’s largest and most strategic rivers. 

There are environmental and political threats, according to Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, an environmental policy specialist at the Tibetan Policy Institute in Dharamshala, India, which is affiliated with the exiled Tibetan government. The project has also caused concern in New Delhi. According to experts, the Chinese Communist Party effectively controls the sources of much of South Asia’s water resources.

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