Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Rivalry over Water Resources as a Potential Cause of Conflict in Asia

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Rivalry over Water Resources as a Potential Cause of Conflict in Asia

Article excerpt

Just how apt the Latin etymology of our English words "rival" and "rivalry" are as having derived from one's relationship with water might soon be seen in conflicts over water resources that will be particularly acute in the Asiatic region and will directly impact upon states from Russia to New Zealand and Australia. While much attention is given to the problem of "peak oil", the geopolitical implications of water shortages are not as generally recognised. Yet despite the major dislocations that could be caused by the alleged problems of the "peak oil" scenario for our industrial societies, there are alternative energy options; however there is no substitute for water, the very substance of life itself. This essay examines the possible scenarios for regional conflict over water resources in Asia, with emphasis on this region's super-power, China.

Key Words: Water resources; China; Central Asia; Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance; Himalayas; India; Vietnam; Russia; Ussuri River; Paracels; Arunachal Pradesh; Aksa Chin; Pakistan; Brahmaputra River; Yalong Zangbo River; Irtysh River; Ili River; Kjaramai River; Kazakhstan; Lake Balkhash, Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.

Rival: "From L. rivalis 'a rival'; originally, 'one who uses the same stream' (or 'one on the opposite side of the stream'), from rivus 'brook'."1

China's domination of Tibet is the key to understanding an approaching geo-political crisis that is likely to emerge in the next few decades. The domination of Tibet means that China controls the Himalayan headwaters of the main rivers of India and Southeast Asia that provide sustenance to the agriculture and energy of these immense territories. Seldom is this strategic importance of Tibet realised. With China facing problems of irrigation and drought, the Beijing leadership is unlikely to hesitate to use the Himalayan headwaters in whatever manner they deem apt for China's interests. There can be no question that China is not restrained by any moral or neighbourly considerations, despite the rapport China now seemingly has with Russia and Central Asia. China's leadership is guided by a ruthless realpolitik that considers China's interests alone. When faced with any question as to China's interests, especially in regard to territory and resources, the façade of good neighbourliness quickly drops, as in the example of China's ongoing territorial disputes with Vietnam and India.

China and India

It is Asia's other emerging super-power, India, that will likely become the focus of an emerging regional conflict with China. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet there have been border disputes with India, but it is China's control over the headwaters of rivers that flow into India from Tibet that provides the key to understanding the source of this potential regional conflict. The ongoing territorial disagreement between China and India could be but the prelude to a far more serious dispute should China proceed with plans to divert the water sources she controls in Tibet in ways that would benefit China at India's expense.

China's border disputes with India during the period of 1960-62 left 3000 Indians dead: and China still claims the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which borders southern Tibet. India in turn protests that China is occupying 15,000 square miles of what she claims is Indian territory in Akasi Chin high in the Himalyas.2

Chinese intransigence in relation to India continues to be played out in diplomatic confrontations, as shown in ongoing negotiations over the disputed areas between China and India.

A thirteenth round of negotiations between India and China, August 7th to 8th 2009, between China's delegation, led by special representative State Councillor Dai Bingguo, and an Indian delegation led by National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan, was intended to work out specific details on how to proceed with negotiations on border demarcation and delineation. …

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