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China blocks tributary of Brahmaputra in Tibet to build dam

China has blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet as part of the construction of its hydro project, which could cause concern in India as it may impact the water flow into the country. The Lalho project on Xiabuqu river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra in Tibet's Xigaze, is being constructed with an investment of 4.95 billion yuan (USD 740 million), making it the “most expensive project" in China, according to the state-run news agency, Xinhua. The project began construction in June 2014, and was scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Also known as Shigatse, Xigaze is closely located to Sikkim. From here, the Brahmaputra flows into Arunachal Pradesh. It is not clear yet what impact the blockade of the river will have on the flow of the river into the lower riparian countries — India and Bangladesh. In March, India's Union minister of state for water resources, Sanwar Lal Jat, said in a statement that the country had expressed its concerns to China about the likely impact of the dams.

But China has been maintaining that it has taken into consideration India's concerns and allays apprehensions of restricting the flow of water, saying its dams are run of the river projects not designed to hold water. Last year, China had operationalised the USD 1.5 billion Zam Hydropower Station, the largest in Tibet, built on the Brahmaputra river, which has raised concerns in India.

Also, the outline of China's 12th Five Year Plan indicates that three more hydropower projects on the mainstream of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet Autonomous Region have been approved for implementation. While there is no water treaty between the countries, India and China established an Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) on trans-border rivers, and in October 2013 the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding on strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers under which Beijing provides data to India on the water flows.

The blockade of the Brahmaputra river tributary comes at a time that India is considering reviewing the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, which considers China its all-weather ally, in the aftermath of the Uri attack. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang gave a guarded reply when asked on September 27 about India's reported move.

“As a friendly neighbour to both India and Pakistan, China hopes that India and Pakistan can properly address disputes and improve relations through dialogue and consultation, maintain and enhance all-round cooperation and join hands to promote regional peace, stability and development," Shuang told PTI. Some of the rivers under the Indus Waters Treaty originate in China.

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