While everyone’s anxiously watching and analysing the events unravelling in the South China Sea, there’s another resource conflict involving China that also deserves attention. In the Himalayas, China and India are competing for valuable hydropower and water resources on the Yarlung Tsangpo–Brahmaputra River. The dispute offers some important lessons for regional cooperation (on more than just water), and highlights what’s at stake if China and India mismanage their resource conflict.
The Yarlung Tsangpo–Brahmaputra River is a 2,880km transboundary river that originates in Tibet, China as the Yarlung Tsangpo, before flowing through northeast India as the Brahmaputra River and Bangladesh as the Jamuna River.
The resource conflict began on 11 June 2000, after a natural dam-burst in Tibet caused a flash flood that resulted in 30 deaths and serious damage to infrastructure in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Some Indian government officials believed the flood was intentionally caused by China, even suggesting China would weaponise or interrupt water supply to leverage over India. The issue dominated reporting on China, but later subsided after satellite imagery confirmed the natural dam. Later in 2002, China and India signed their first Memorandum of Understanding for the provision of hydrological information during the monsoon months, previously discontinued after their 1962 border war. [Source]