Editorials, GS-2, International Relations, Uncategorized

China’s water hegemony in Asia

  • Severe drought has occurred in south east asia and the main reason for this is rapid construction of dam by China at upstreams. Now Beijing is trying to legitimatise it by releasing water to drought hit nation in Lower Mekong river basin i.e. China is touting the utility of its upstream structures in fighting droughts and floods.


It shows China’s newfound power to control the flow of a life-sustaining resource and thus increasing lower basin Nation’s dependence on China’s goodwill and charity.

Moreover with a further 14 dams being built or planned by China on the Mekong, this dependence on Chinese goodwill is set to deepen.

This has given edge to China to push its Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) initiative as an alternative to the lower-basin states’ Mekong River Commission.

What is Mekong River Commission?

  • The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is an intergovernmental body concerned with the Mekong River basin and charged “to promote and co-ordinate sustainable management and development of water and related resources for the countries’ mutual benefit and the people’s well-being by implementing strategic programmes and activities and providing scientific information and policy advice.
  • But China has spurned it over the years. China is only dialogue partner and not member of it whish shows its intention to take part in discussions but not to take on any legal obligations.
  • China’s refusal to join the 1995 Mekong treaty, which created the commission, has stunted the development of an inclusive, rules-based basin community to deal with water- and environment-related challenges.

What is its Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) initiative?

LMC, a political initiative emphasizing Chinese “cooperation”, is intended to help marginalize the commission, an institution with legally binding rules and regulations.

The LMC project is also designed to overshadow the US-sponsored Lower Mekong Initiative, which seeks to overcome Chinese opposition to the Mekong treaty by promoting integrated cooperation among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

How China is in the process of establishing its hegemony?

  • By forcibly absorbing the Tibetan plateau (the giant incubator of Asia’s main river systems) and Xinjiang (the starting point of the Irtysh and the Illy), China became the source of transboundary river flows to the largest number of countries in the world, extending from the Indo-China peninsula and South Asia to Kazakhstan and Russia.
  • Along with this it is continuously constructing dams. Before the communists seized power, China had only 22 dams and now it has more than 90000 dams.
  • Now, country’s dam builders, in fact, are shifting their focus from the dam-saturated internal rivers (some of which, like the Yellow, are dying) to the international rivers.


Despite its centrality in Asia’s water map, China has rebuffed the idea of a water-sharing treaty with any neighbour. Against this background, the concern growing among downstream neighbours is that China is seeking to turn water into a potential political weapon. After all, by controlling the spigot for much of Asia’s water, China is acquiring major leverage over its neighbours’ behaviour in a continent already reeling under very low freshwater availability.

Thus the only hope that could temper its dam frenzy is a prolonged economic slowdown at home and flattening demand for electricity due to China’s already-slowing economic growth

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