Thanks to the gigantic mass of glaciers deposited on the Tibetan plateau, the People’s Republic of China has an enormous water reserve. Ten of the main rivers that cross the Asian continent, the source of life for millennia for the entire region, originates from the melting of these glaciers.
But in recent decades, these rivers in China have provided more than just fresh water: they have become a significant source of energy, feeding more than 20,000 dams built by the communist regime since 1950. These include the world’s largest—the controversial Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.
The Chinese regime’s alleged intention to replace coal-burning with hydropower is not without cost. The thousands of dams, many of which proved to be defective, caused floods that left entire cities under water, as well as environmental disasters destroying flora and fauna in entire regions.
The dams issue is also triggering serious conflicts with neighboring countries, which claim to be affected by the Chinese regime’s interventions in rivers on which 18 Asian countries and more than two billion people depend.
According to serious allegations, in recent years, the Chinese regime has withheld more water than ever before in its upstream dams, causing countries downstream to suffer unprecedented droughts, leading to erratic and devastating changes in the continent’s water levels.
Some accusations claim that China could use its dams as a geopolitical weapon to “turn off the tap” and generate economic and political instability in the countries that depend on the expected behavior of these rivers.
The most significant conflict that the Chinese regime has on this issue is with India, a country bordering the southwest of the country.
Recently the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced the construction of a dam that would dwarf the Three Gorges, a project that could be the largest mega water project in history, which it would construct on the Yarlung Zangbo. This river flows from west to east from Tibet through China before entering the Arunachal Pradesh region of India and finally becoming the Brahmaputra River.
The CCP has a water problem affecting its relationship with neighboring countries domestically. The regime faces a severe imbalance between available water and population, while most rivers in China have disappeared, partly because of dams. Moreover, industrialization and pollution have spoiled much of the remaining water.
Bloomberg reported that between 80 percent and 90 percent of China’s groundwater and half of its river water are polluted and unfit for human consumption.
Over 20,000 dams in China: Energy resource or geopolitical weapon?
Over the last decades, especially during the previous thirty years, the Chinese regime has built a series of dams in the upper Mekong River basin. Those dams caused significant concerns, especially in the countries that depend on the flow of this river: Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
During the 2019 rainy season, all these countries were affected by a historic drought, even despite heavy rainfall and average temperatures that allowed good snowmelt. It was only explained by confirmation that the Chinese regime was withholding almost all water flow in its dams.
It was later confirmed that in the dry season, the Chinese regime was releasing the water that had not been released during the wet season, generating heavy flooding and thus an unnatural imbalance that affected all the countries involved.
It should be noted that much of the development and economic livelihood of these countries depends on the normal water flow of the Mekong River.
The study published by Eyes on Earth in 2020 uses physical evidence from Mekong River Commission river gauges and remote sensing processes to definitively confirm long-standing concerns that the ongoing drought is related to China’s water management policy.
When the regime released all the accumulated water, it generated a large amount of electrical power, causing absolute chaos due to downstream flooding. The findings are now available, and the affected countries are trying to negotiate a more equitable distribution of water resources.
The Chinese regime treats data on water flow and hydropower operations as a state secret. This lack of transparency allowed China to establish a narrative of shared suffering due to the drought.
Chinese authorities claimed that the lack of rainfall was the leading cause of drought, asserting that even China had suffered from it. However, subsequent findings proved the claim to be completely false.
There is a great fear that because of the shortage of drinking water in China, its authorities may decide to channel the natural flow of the Mekong River to achieve a more “efficient” distribution within the country. If so, it could directly leave downstream countries without water, aggravating the situation even more.
The Three Gorges
The famous Three Gorges dam is located along the course of the Yangtze River in inland China. Since its installation in 2012, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam has aroused great controversy, mainly because of its environmental impact. It has not solved the flooding problem it promised to solve. On the contrary, critics even claim that it has worsened it.
Since China announced the mega project, there have been great detractors.
“One of the major justifications for the Three Gorges Dam was flood control, but less than 20 years after its completion, we have the highest floodwater in recorded history … The fact is that it cannot prevent these severe events,” David Shankman, a geographer at the University of Alabama who studies Chinese flooding, told Reuters.
Huang Wanli, a Chinese hydrologist, had opposed the idea of the Three Gorges Dam since it was first proposed, warning that the engineering work would end up causing disaster. However, the CCP disgraced and imprisoned him.
In July 2021, heavy rains again put China’s dam system to the test, and as many had predicted, disasters were not long in coming. At least three dams collapsed utterly, and another was dynamited in the face of imminent collapse.
Although the communist regime tried to minimize the chaos, it was impossible to keep it secret that hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. As a result, the dead were counted by the dozens in the most affected regions.
In this context, the eyes of the citizens and the regime were on the Three Gorges Dam, the colossal structure retaining water at 91 meters (298 feet) above river level at its maximum capacity—equivalent to an approximate weight of 42 billion concentrated tons.
Millions of people live downstream of the dam in many major cities like Wuhan, Nanjing, and Shanghai, located along the Yangtze River. A collapse of the mega-dam would cause a catastrophe of inconceivable dimensions.
Some critics reported that satellite images showed evidence of a displacement of the dam, and other witnesses say they saw major cracks that could mean a weakening of its structure.
The rains stopped, and the dam finally did not collapse, but it left a feeling of great fear about what could happen in the future.
The Three Gorges dam did not fulfill its objective of preventing floods and caused an environmental disaster forcing the relocation of more than a million citizens to build it. Now the Chinese regime is planning the creation of a dam that would be of an even greater magnitude.
Chinese regime announces construction of world’s largest dam
It isn’t easy to express the magnitude of the Tibetan plateau. Its mountains stretch across endless kilometers, and its peaks caress the sky, embraced by thousands and thousands of tons of ice and snow.
In addition to the natural beauty that forms the Tibetan plateau, it is the source of life for one-fifth of the world’s population. So great is the reserve of water stored in the heights of Tibet that specialists often call it the Third Pole, about Antarctica and the Arctic, the world’s two principal freshwater reserves.
This coveted region and source of fresh water for the entire Asian continent is located in Chinese territory and borders Bhutan, Nepal, and India.
In late 2021, as the world focused its concerns on the CCP virus pandemic, the Chinese regime announced that it would seek to exploit the hydropower potential of the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo. This river rises high in Tibet and then crosses the border into India.
The announcement came as part of the government’s 14th five-year plan—a set of guidelines detailing China’s economic and social priorities. However, controversy soon arose, especially when it was revealed that the dam would be even larger than the already controversial Three Gorges.
India and China have a long-standing conflict over the border division precisely in the Tibet region. The news of the dam only increased the tension between the two nations.
Experts believe it could be the riskiest megastructure ever built. Not only is the location prone to massive landslides and some of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, but it is also precariously close to the disputed border between India and China, causing tensions to rise between the two nations.
As expected, details of the project were not announced. Still, it was reported to involve drilling a huge tunnel through the middle of the mountains to divert the large flow of water and send it plummeting down through the tunnel and eventually through the turbines, which would generate a tremendous amount of power.
Chinese media reported that the head of PowerChina, the company believed to be spearheading the project, said the canyon could generate more than 60 gigawatts of power—three times the output of the Three Gorges dam.
The risks of carrying out such a project are enormous from several aspects, due to the complexity of carrying out a mega project at such altitudes and considering the difficulty of accessing such an inhospitable area, in addition to the geological volatility of the area, which is one of the most active seismic zones in the world, so that any work there could involve massive landslides that would wipe out entire villages.
However, some experts assure that the Chinese regime can carry out the project. The biggest obstacles that currently put a brake on are the difficulties surrounding the political issues generated by the project.
It is controversial that the Chinese regime holds the key to open or close at will one of the largest freshwater sources in the world, with all that this implies for the millions of people living downstream.
Fierce dispute between India and Chinese regime in Tibet
The mega project announced by China is located precisely in an area claimed by India and occupied by China. Since 1960 the two countries have disputed over the borderline, even leading to armed clashes between them in the region.
In June 2020, a violent clash broke out in the Galwan Valley, north of the border, resulting in the first combat-related deaths between the two countries since 1975.
Indian sources indicated that the death toll of Chinese soldiers exceeded 40, while Indian army fatalities reached 20. While this set off global alarms about the possibility of a larger-scale war, the situation did not escalate. However, the Chinese regime continues to deploy many troops in the region.
The idea of a mega-dam a few kilometers from the borderline between China and Arunachal Pradesh in India has caused angst and raised fears that China is trying to use water as a weapon by cutting off or diverting the flow of the precious Yarlung Tsangpo River.
Why does China insist on damming?
The creation of dams gives the Chinese regime enormous power over freshwater reserves. But, as a matter of logic, the authorities will never assume that this is the main argument for dam development because they would face criticism from the international community, which would surely condemn it.
Instead, the official discourse indicates that the creation of new dams represents a critical factor in its efforts to reach maximum carbon emissions by 2035 and become carbon neutral by 2060.
To reduce its carbon emissions, China will need to wean itself off its reliance on coal. Currently, more than 60 percent of China’s energy comes from its emissions-intensive coal-fired power plants, and it is still building more.
Reports suggest that the potential power from the controversial dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo River could be between 40 and 60 gigawatts, which is still a tiny amount relative to what is required to achieve the announced carbon neutrality.
In this context, critics are rightly asking, what cost must be paid to achieve this supposed carbon neutrality? Is the Chinese regime seriously measuring this cost-benefit ratio in creating dams, or are its actual purposes elsewhere?
Drinking water problems
With China’s valuable water reserve on the Tibetan plateau, it seems inconceivable that a country would have problems with access to drinking water. However, under the Chinese communist regime, this is not only possible but a complex reality.
As mentioned above, thousands of rivers have disappeared in China, and at the same time, most of the groundwater is polluted by industrial activity and is unfit for drinking.
In early 2021 in The Hill, an article put it, “China is drastically short of the water it needs to sustain its economy.” The Chinese authorities know all too well and say they are scrambling to fix it.
In 2005, Premier Wen Jiabao claimed that water shortages threatened the “very survival of the Chinese nation.” A water resources minister announced that China must “fight for every drop of water or die.”
China’s water resources situation is particularly dire. China accounts for 20 percent of the world’s population but provides only 7 percent of fresh drinking water. The world’s per capita water resource is 12,900 cubic meters. China’s per capita water resources are only 2,300 cubic meters—less than a quarter.
China is listed as one of 13 water-poor countries by the United Nations. Moreover, entire regions suffer more severe water shortages than the arid Middle East.
Many reasons can be given to explain the alarming situation of the Chinese people regarding access to drinking water. However, to summarize the causes of the conflict, we will undoubtedly find that the degradation of morals by the CCP, extreme corruption, poor planning, and excessive exploitation of water resources have led to the reality, possibly irreversible, that is experienced today in the Asian country and its affected neighbors.