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Published on August 14th, 2013 | by Usman Butt
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China and India: Neighbours not Friends

Tensions in South Asia are reaching boiling point as news of mini-skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces take place in the disputed region of Kashmir. However, it is not only tension between India and Pakistan that is a cause of concern in the region. There is also a contest for regional power between India and China- which is having devastating effects on the region.

As the Guardian reported, the ecology of the Himalayas is being threatened because of competition between India and China over water resources. More than 400 dams are scheduled to be built by India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan in the coming years. The population of the region is every increasing, and there is a desperate need to meet the rising demand for energy. If built- the combined effort of all 400 dams will produce 160, 000MW of electricity- three times what the UK uses. In addition to this, China plans to build 100 dams in Tibet to meet that number. Up until now, most of the Himalaya region is largely un-dammed  but the new energy policies of regional countries will change that.

China and India are now in a race to build these dams and take as much of the water resources as possible. Both sides are cutting through the valleys at lightning speed. The result could be that in the next 20 years “The Himalayas become the most dammed region in the world” according to Ed Grumbine, an international scientist. The trouble with the excessive damming is that it will lead to the destruction of much of the Himalayas region, everything from wildlife to the fertile valleys.

With superior resources, technical know-how and man-power, China is likely to emerge as the main controller of the region’s waters. Nearly 40% of the world’s population relies on the waters for their livelihood. “The plateau is the source of the single largest collection of international rivers in the world, including the Mekong, the Brahmaputra, the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers. It is the headwater of rivers on which nearly half the world depends. The net effect of the dam building could be disastrous. We just don’t know the consequences” said Tashi Tsering of the University of British Columbia in Canada. ,

According to Indian Geo-Political analyst, Brahma Chellaney, “China is engaged in the greatest water grab in history.” China is helping to finance and build dams in India’s rivals countries- Pakistan, Laos, Burma, and else ware. This has created a stand-off between the two-countries.

India and China have a long history of mutual animosity, which has led to war between the two countries in the past. Much of the animosity has to do with land. India claims the whole of Kashmir for itself, as does Pakistan but China controls a tiny part of Kashmir too. Large segments of eastern India, China claims as it’s ‘rightful land’ but India disagrees. India is fighting internal civil wars against different secessionist movements in 20 provinces which China is alleged to have had a hand in. India hosts much of the Tibetan leadership and exiles (including anti-Chinese and pro-independence political exiles), which makes China suspicious of Indian intentions. Whenever there is an uprising in Tibet, the Chinese blame the Indians for it. China has forged close ties to Pakistan and actively assists the country’s military and pumps money into its economy. There are regular cross-border incidents between China and India which, at times, have dangerously edged the two closer to war.

To make matters worse, the United States seeks to exploit this rivalry. The United States feels its global power is threatened by a rising China and, as part of Obama’s pivot towards the Asia-Pacific region, aims to reign in Chinese influence. India is seen as a US subsidiary, which the United States can balance China’s regional power off against. There is a belief that India could be a regional counterweight to China, if the US backs it (but not a global superpower- as some would assert). In 2007, when there was an uprising in Burma, the United States tried to get India to intervene militarily. However, India was unable to do it because the Pakistanis increased troop numbers on the Kashmiri border.

The pressure that the United States in placing on India will only increase regional tensions rather than diffuse it. Moreover, India has many internal problems which could eat away at the state’s resources and increasing tension with China will only exacerbate the situation. The battle for water is the latest manifestation of regional animosity but it has the potential to create a wider conflict. The excessive damming, which is planned, will destroy livelihoods and could escalate into war. What is needed now is mediation between the two sides- and a series of economic and political agreements which will lead to the ending of the rivalry, otherwise we could all end up paying the price.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.

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