In a tit-for-tat response to India’s refusal to withdraw from Doklam, China is refusing to share with India crucial data on the river flow and discharge of water from the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra river, contrary to the terms of an official data-sharing agreement worked out in 2013. The reason for Beijing’s anger: India’s refusal to withdraw its troops from the disputed Doklam area at the tri-junction of Bhutan, China and India.
Both Bhutan and China claim Doklam as their own. Troubles began over two months ago when China moved in heavy road building equipment and workers in large numbers to begin construction on a road to which Bhutan objected and appealed to India for help. While China and Bhutan do not share diplomatic relations, Bhutan has a long standing agreement with India. Its provisions make Delhi responsible for the safeguarding Bhutan’s territorial integrity. India responded by sending its troops to the area, beginning the current stand-off.
The military standoff in the Himalayas has turned into a diplomatic row that major powers are monitoring carefully. The US, the UK and Japan have supported the position taken by India and urged China not to escalate the current situation through belligerent moves or bellicose rhetoric.
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After several Indian States were hit by torrential floods following very heavy monsoon rains in the past few weeks, Indian authorities began worrying about the downstream flow of the Brahmaputra. Their concerns occurred in the context of parts of East Uttar Pradesh and major areas of north Bihar, West Bengal and Assam becoming inundated. The death toll in Bihar has crossed 250, while over 150 have died in each Bengal and Assam, notwithstading damage to property, livestock, crops, and infrastructure.
To Delhi’s ire, China has refused to share meterological information from the upper Himalayan reaches in Tibet where the Brahmaputra originates. Despite the 2013 agreement, China has not sent details about rainfall or the discharge of water from the dams and reservoirs it has recently built. Such information is important to countries downstream such as India and Bangladesh, as it enables them to prepare for expected flooding in advance.
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Ever since China launched its controversial hydro-electric power and dam building projects in the sensitive, seismic and mountainous terrain, seeking to divert a part of the river’s waters to the relatively dry Xinkiang area at a cost of $9.6 billion, downstream countries like India and Bangladesh have been urging Beijing to be mindful of the wider environmental and ecological effects to the region as a whole.
Beijing has rebutted that being a run-of-the–river project, its dam building and hydropower generating scheme would not reduce either the overall flow of water to India and Bangladesh. Rather, it has argued that it would solve issues that arise during the monsoon season in parts of Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh, where the Brahmaputra is known as ‘the mother of woes’.
When a spokesman from the Indian External Affairs Ministry announced that the Chinese had stopped sending their usual data as under the terms of the 2013 agreement, Beijing did not respond. Instead, there were reactions from Chinese academics from departments and institutions affiliated to Shanghai University.
In the government-owned dailty the Global Times, two experts have been quoted on the present situation: Hu Zhiyong and Zhao Gangheng.
Both accused India of having violated China’s soveriengty in Doklam, and that, as a result, China had no obligation to cooperate and furnish data that India might request until Delhi withdrew. They also urged India to “think of other countries” when crafting foreign policy.
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To Delhi, this will inevitably be puzzling. Bangladesh will be a direct loser from the Indo-Chinese tension over Doklam, despite it not being involved! The likely anger in Dhaka is likely to help China step up its diplomatic pressure on India to resolve the dispute.
However, Indian experts are as of now unsure how the Chinese will be able to withhold critical information to Bangladesh, especially in the context of China’s diplomatic offensive in Dhaka. ‘Dhaka commands enough diplomatic leverage and regional importance to question Beijing directly about this,’ says a Kolkata-based analyst.
Delhi-based official sources told a Bangladeshi online portal that they are not unduly worried over what they regard as Chinese stubbornness. ‘Just because China is upset over something, it cannot very well announce that it will break its pledged commitments spelt out in a formal treaty! Let an official Chinese announcement come first before Delhi will respond,’ they said.----ends.