Chinese plans for the Yarlung Tsangpo risk further inflaming tensions with New Delhi amid the ongoing border stand-off

But the boss of the Power Construction Corporation of China insists the scheme will protect China’s national security

A hydroelectric project in Tibet will protect China’s national security and foster international cooperation, the head of a leading state-owned construction firm has said.

But the Yarlung Tsangpo project risks further inflaming India, which shares the waterway, amid the prolonged border stand-off between the two countries.

Yan Zhiyong, chairman and party secretary of the Power Construction Corporation of China, said the latest five-year plan, which runs until 2025, made it clear the project would be implemented.

“I think the hydroelectric development in the lower reaches of Yarlung is not solely a hydroelectric project, but five projects combined,” said Yan.

“It is a national security project, ensuring China’s water resources security and homeland security … it’s a people’s welfare project that can contribute more than 20 billion yuan (US$3 billion) … it’s a key energy project that would make use of 60 million kilowatts of hydropower in Yarlung’s lower reaches,” said Yan, adding the development can also boost international cooperation and ecological development.

“It is an international cooperation project. After the completion of hydropower stations, power grids and roads, cooperation between China and South Asia will become smoother,” said Yan.

Yan made these remarks at a memorial meeting to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese Society for Hydropower Engineering on Thursday.

It is one of a number of major projects for Tibet outlined in China’s latest five-year plan, a blueprint for the country’s social and economic policies up to 2025, which also includes a rail link between Tibet and Sichuan.

China has long been planning to harness the energy of the 2,900km-long (1,800-mile) Yarlung Tsangpo, which is known as the Brahmaputra river in India.

It is the world’s highest river and runs west to east in Tibet along the rift created by the impact of the Eurasian Plate. Tibet is a key area for power generation in China with about a quarter of the country’s total potential capacity, according to government estimates.

At least 11 hydroelectric projects are in operation or being planned.

But the latest project was given the green light amid heightened tensions with India after a clash along their disputed border left 20 Indian troops dead and caused an unknown number of Chinese casualties.

Troops on both sides of the Himalayan border remain entrenched in their positions despite the onset of winter.

Xu Liping, a professor at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, acknowledged that the project would have an impact on people lower down the river, but said the problem could be solved by cooperation.

“India’s trust towards China is pretty low, so no matter what China does, India will not fully trust China’s words and deeds,” said Xu.

“So I think China needs to be especially transparent and careful when planning and building these projects to decrease suspicion and criticism from neighbours.”

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, an adjunct fellow from Institute for Australia India Engagement in Brisbane, said China’s actions risk a backlash from India, which may seek support from other countries to challenge the plan.

“The Brahmaputra river, as it is known in India, causes large-scale floods and both countries have agreements on data sharing. India faces recurrent issues over data from China. A timely data supply saves a lot of lives and loss of property. But it is not timely,” said Chaturvedy.

“I think India will use all occasions – bilateral as well as regional and multilateral forums to convince partners to work together to challenge China’s plan,” he added.

Other Chinese hydropower projects have also caused protests in other county. Hydropower projects on the upper reaches of the Mekong, or Lancang as it is known in China, a life source for 60 million people, have been blamed for caused abnormal weather patterns and reducing the water supply downrivers.

Meanwhile, the China-backed multibillion-dollar Myitsone dam project in Myanmar has been stalled for years due to local resistance.

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