Indian government has revealed that China has not shared key hydrological data regarding the Brahmaputra river during the monsoon season despite a prior agreement.
The two nations have recently called off a military stand-off in the Doklam plateau.
In June 2017, a skirmish broke out between Indian and Chinese troops at the Doklam plateau. Indian soldiers had intervened the construction work being conducted by China in the region. The area is a disputed territory between Bhutan (an Indian ally) and China. For nearly three months both nations were engaged in a military stand-off. Another scuffle between Indian and Chinese troops broke out in August 2017. The two sides took to throwing stones at one another at Pangong Lake in Ladakh. Reportedly 15 Chinese soldiers had crossed into Indian territory and did not turn back despite repeated warnings.
By the end of August 2017, both sides announced that the stand-off had been called off. The Indian statement noted that both sides would withdraw troops but China had declared that its troops will continue to patrol the area. However, China has pulled back road construction equipment and bulldozers it had brought to the area.
According to reports, the BRICS Summit likely played a key role in ending the stand-off. The Summit was hosted by China and the nation did not want the conflict to overshadow its agenda.
The Indian government has stated that China has not shared hydrological data for the Brahmaputra river for the monsoon season. In 2002, India and China signed a number of agreements. Beijing agreed to share data on the water levels of both Brahmaputra and Sutlej every flood season. The flood season in India begin in May 15th and yet no data has been sent to Delhi. This is a particular problem for the nation as the floods caused in Assam by the overflowing of the Brahmaputra has resulted in the deaths of at least 100 people.
The Brahmaputra is a trans-boundary river than runs that originates from China and runs through India and Bangladesh. It is located on the northern side of the Himalayas and flows into Arunachal Pradesh in India.
China has said that its hydrological stations are being updated and hence the data has not been shared. However, BBC has revealed that China is sharing data regarding the river with Bangladesh. A member of the joint rivers commission of Bangladesh, Mofazzal Hossain, has since confirmed that China did in fact share the data with the nation.
An official from India has spoken to the BBC relaying concern over China’s actions. The official has said, “We thought we would now be able to convince them to share the hydrological data of the non-monsoon season so that there is no suspicion that they would divert water during lean season. But now we are not getting even the monsoon flow information, this is a worrying sign and it also shows their [China's] intention”
In 2016 China blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra to build a dam. The blockade occurred during a period when Indian government had threatened to pull out of the Indus Water Treaty following a militant attack in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Our assessment is that the ties between India and China have been significantly damaged due to the military stand-off. It appears that China would be using any leverage it possesses to seek retribution for what it perceives as illegal action from the Indian side. In the past China has used trade agreements to punish regions that challenge its foreign policy. In the recent years, it has used trade as a leverage to gain an upper hand with South Korea and Mongolia. We believe that water will emerge as a key determinant in South Asia’s geopolitics.