Friday, December 29

India-China relations: America's Frankenstein and India's river waters

The war that everyone fears is coming will not arise in the Middle East and it might not come in your lifetime, but it's on the way, sure as rain. The irreversible steps were taken before you were born when a coalition of India's raja families backed Mohandas Gandhi's pacifist approach to dealing with the British Raj.

The alternative, backed by a smaller group of raja families, India's independence activists, and a few members of the US Congress, was to demand that the British quit India and to back up the demand with military force if necessary. The latter approach was doomed because the activists wanted to bring in democracy, which most raja families feared would destroy their wealth.

One consequence of the decades of foot-dragging under Gandhi's leadership was that India's army was in ruins when the British finally quit India, which meant the army was unable to face down China over the invasion of Tibet.

All that's happened since with regard to the situation, all that will happen, arose from greed, cowardice, and a betrayal of the public trust. The raja families who continued to serve the wishes of their British masters at the expense of their subjects are the model for the "900 Lazy Bastards" I sometimes mention.

The situation that set up conditions for inevitable war is water under the bridge -- or should I say water sweeping away bridges. What's done is done, but the entire world will eventually pay the price for China's invasion of Tibet.

Is there anything that the most powerful nation can do to shift the implacable course of events ever so slightly, so that the worst does not happen down the line? A ghost of a chance would mean a shift in viewpoint from the US Department of State and the US Congress about Russia. If there is any country that might buffer the situation between China and India, it is Russia. And State would need to confront China's water shortage and the impact on China's relations with India.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with the American electorate getting informed about India-China relations. On December 23 The Washington Times published an excellent analysis of present India-China relations. I post the entire article here with the request that readers study it very carefully because it's also a primer on China's style of diplomacy and foreign policy thinking.

However, the analysis -- necessarily short -- does not discuss the China-India water angle, so I am also posting two articles on the topic. In the first article, note the statement by China's ministry that the Zhada dam in Tibet was built with consideration for the impact on the "lower reaches" -- India -- then note the news report that follows on about the flooding of the Sutlej.
India, China seek cooperative image
By Brahma Chelleney
December 23, 2006

NEW DELHI -- Managed competition is likely to define the relationship between the two demographic titans, India and China, in the years ahead, even as they seek to expand bilateral cooperation.

During Chinese President Hu Jintao's November visit to India, the underlying wariness or even suspicion of each other's intentions was hardly absent. Yet both sides felt the need to publicly play down the competitive dynamics of their relationship and emphasize cooperation.

The visit, although low in substance, yielded a rhetoric-laden joint statement with nice jingles, such as "all-round mutually beneficial cooperation." At a time when Beijing has not hidden its unease about the larger strategic implications of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, the statement promised the two sides would "promote cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments" -- a symbolic commitment unlikely to translate into action.

It makes sense for India to stress cooperation while working to narrow the power disparity with China and build greater stability and equilibrium in Asia through strategic ties with other democracies, including the United States and Japan. To China, an accent on cooperation dovetails with its larger strategy to advertise its "peaceful rise." China's strategy has been built around a theme: Its emergence as a great power is unstoppable, and it is thus incumbent on other nations to adjust to that rise.

Still, the strained and fragile nature of relations between the two Asian giants was exposed on the eve of Mr. Hu's visit by the Chinese ambassador's bellicose claim in public that the entire northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to China. This compelled Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to respond that "every inch of Arunachal Pradesh is part of India."

With Mr. Hu by his side, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave vent to India's disquiet over the slow progress of the 25-year-old border negotiations with China by calling for efforts to settle the "outstanding issues in a focused, sincere and problem-solving manner."

The two countries are locked in what some consider the longest and most-barren negotiating process between any two countries in modern world history. By urging that improvement in bilateral ties be made "irreversible," Mr. Singh pointed to the danger that blunt assertion of territorial claims or other belligerent actions could undo the gains.

It is true that India and China have a mutual stake in maintaining the peaceful diplomatic environment on which their continued economic modernization and security depend. Despite Beijing's reluctance to fully define the military line separating the Chinese and Indian armies, the Himalayan border remains peaceful.

Yet there is no congruence on geopolitical issues. That is why the proclaimed "India-China strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity" remains devoid of content. The two sides can only showcase their fast-growing trade, which has risen to almost $20 billion this year from just $260 million in 1990.

But Japan and China, with 10 times higher trade volume, are discovering that when strategic animosities remain untreated, interdependent commercial ties do not guarantee moderation. Similarly, Japan and South Korea, with bilateral trade more than twice as large as Sino-Indian exports and imports, are finding it hard to ease their prickly political relationship, despite both being military allies of the United States.

Interstate economic ties in today's market-driven world are not constrained by political problems. Even if China-India trade overtakes U.S.-India trade -- a likely scenario -- political issues will continue to divide Beijing and New Delhi.

The India-China strategic dissonance is rooted not only in their contrasting political ideals and quiet rivalry, but also in Beijing's relentless pursuit of a classical, Sun Tzu-style balance-of-power strategy. While seeking to present itself as a see-no-evil, do-no-evil state, China is zealously working to build up its power capabilities to engage the world on its own terms. In order to avert the rise of a peer rival in Asia, it has sought to tie down India strategically.

China has stepped up strategic pressure on India on three separate flanks. It is fashioning two north-south strategic corridors on either side of India -- the trans-Karakoram corridor from Xinjiang stretching right up to Pakistan's Chinese-built Gwadar port, at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's oil supply passes; and the Irrawaddy corridor involving road, river and rail links from Yunnan to the Burmese ports on the Bay of Bengal.

Brahma Chelleney, a professor at the privately funded Center for Policy Research n New Delhi, is an author, most recently, of "Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan" (HarperCollins 2006).

China's river plan worries India
by Indrani Bagchi
The Times of India
October 23, 2006

NEW DELHI: A controversial Chinese plan — currently on the boil in Beijing, that involves damming the Brahmaputra river and diverting 200 billion cubic metres of water annually to feed the ageing Yellow river — is giving sleepless nights to the Indian government.

Though it is still at the discussion stage and presents an enormous engineering challenge, the plan reportedly has the backing of Chinese President Hu Jintao, a hydro-engineer by profession, say sources in Beijing.

The idea, nevertheless, is believed to be serious enough to warrant exchange of cables between Beijing and New Delhi. India plans to engage in some serious consultations with China on this issue over the next few months.

The project plans to take the diverted water to feed north-eastern China watering Shaanxi, Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin areas, which could be looking at a parched future.

If the project goes through, it could strangle one of India's and Bangladesh's biggest sources of water.

China's economic prowess is the toast of the moment, but China's real source of influence over its southern neighbours is that it controls the tap for this part of the world.

The proposed project, called the 'Greater Western Water Diversion Project', is part of the gigantic South-North water project that has already been started by China.

In August, the Chinese government sanctioned 300 billion yuan to divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze river in the Qinghai

In August, the Chinese government sanctioned 300 billion yuan to divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze river in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to the upper reaches of the Yellow river in north-western China.

It will bring water from the Yalong, Dadu and Jinsha rivers, which are tributaries of the Yangtze, to the upper reaches of the Yellow river.

It is the proposed western route of this project being debated in China at present that is worrying strategists and policy-planners in the Indian government.

They believe this project, if allowed unopposed, could have immense impact on lower riparian states like India and Bangladesh.

Indian officials are preparing for detailed discussions with their Chinese counterparts over the next few months. The western diversion project is inspired by a book, How Tibet's Water Will Save China, by Li Ling. [See In China, a Water Plan Smacks of Mao].

Picking up a great deal of support among the Communist party leadership in Beijing, sources said, this book details the proposal by hydrologist Guo Kai called “Shuo-tian” (reverse flow) canal, which proposes to divert the Brahmaputra.

Recently, responding to Indian media reports that China had built a dam on the Sutlej river, the Chinese foreign ministry acknowledged the dam in Zhada county in Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) but said they did it for electricity for the local population.

In doing so, they "considered fully the impact on lower reaches".

Raging Sutlej threatens Kinnaur
Pioneer News Service
June 28, 2005

Note: India's river water and flodding is under China's control. This is too dangerous for India and must not be toletated, and should be corrected by India by getting control over the land where these lakes reside, namely the Tibet.

The overflowing Pare Chu in Tibet left a trail of destruction in the Kinnaur valley of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday even as Kinnaur was on full alert. The torrent washed away five bridges over the Sutlej and damaged key bridges in areas near the Nathpa-Jhakri hydro power.

Among the worst affected is the commercial town of Rampur, where the swollen Sutlej has broken banks and left many homeless. Two villages of Jango and Lio have been washed away but there has been no loss of human lives because the evacuation process started just in time.

Whether the situation could get worse is not immediately known. The Government is not sure whether the surge of water is overflowing from the artificial lake formed on the Pare Chu or whether its walls have been breached. It expects a satellite picture of the site on Monday. The lake is perched atop an inaccessible valley making a spot visit difficult.

The artificial lake has been holding an expanding mass of water since August 2004. It is believed that glacier melting, exacerbated by an unusually hot summer, and followed by incessant snowfall has caused the artificial lake on the Pare Chu to either overflow or breach. The peaks around Chitkul village close to the Indo-Tibetan border received a fresh coat of snow as late as June 12. The waters of the Sutlej had been rising for the past three days.

The Centre's Crisis Management Group, chaired by Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi, held an emergency meeting of top officials here after large parts of the valley were put on alert. A close vigil is being maintained at Kinnaur, Rampur, Bilaspur and Mandi districts of the State. Army helicopters are on stand-by in Chandigarh. The Centre has also rushed two companies of the specialised disaster management force.

"The alert comes because of a sudden rise in water level of river Pare Chu," Home Secretary VK Duggal said in New Delhi. "The levels shot up to about 50 metres but have now stabilised at 30 metres," he said. At least 4,500 people were evacuated during the day. "There has been no loss of life yet," he said.

The Centre is co-ordinating with the Directorate General of Military Operations (DGMO) and Indo Tibetan Border Force (ITBF) for evacuating people believed to be at risk from the rising waters.

As a precaution all the six power generation units of the 1,500 mw Nathpa Jhakri hydro power project along the Sutlej and its tributaries were shut down on Saturday. The gushing waters have also brought with it several tonnes of silt down the Sutlej, raising the silt content in the river to 8,000 particles per ml (PPM). The desilting chambers of the hydropower units are capable of handling only 5,000 ppm. This is a second time in a week that the plant has been forced to shut down, affecting power supplies within the state and to the Northern Grid. Had the plant not been shut down yesterday, it could have been severely damaged today.

A crucial bridge linking Rampur to Kinnaur has been severely damaged at Jagatkhana, snapping this town's lifeline with northern parts of Himachal Pradesh. According to Kinnaur SP Arvind Sharda, the Pare Chu overflow has washed away four bridges upstream of Sutlej ahead of the district headquarters town of Reckong Peo towards Pooh, and one downstream near Karchham. These bridges were crucial supply and link lines to Kinnaur.

Senior police officials say that the Pare Chu level has stabilised after the flooding though IAF helicopters are patrolling the banks of the Sutlej and the highway to Kinnaur has been closed.


Anonymous said...

whether good or not,gandhis approach ensured the survival of the Hindu civilisation,avoiding the n number of bloody revolutions that the west underwent. There might be a possibility of the destruction of enemies if we act with wisdom and alacrity.

Pundita said...

I don't know how I missed your comment at the time, beyond my being so busy that I posted it without reading it. At any rate, I find your observation about Gandhi preposterous and based on a completely uninformed view of Hindu civilization, which it seems you conflate with pacifism. As to the possibility you mention -- what signs of "wisdom and alacrity" have you noticed since you posted your comment?