Aug 21, 2009 3:55 pm


Surviving the parallel rise of two Asian nuclear giants is the ultimate problem of the 21st century. It is a problem that Henry Kissinger willfully ignores in his discussion about the need to rebalance American-Chinese relations. Perhaps he is aware of the fact that Chinese international aggressiveness is revealed in its relations with India.

While China can dismiss Europe as a museum the the US as a declining superpower, it cannot do the same with emerging India. Astute as they are, some Chinese thinkers have concluded that bringing about the disintegration of one of the Indian giant presents the most efficacious solution. More troubling is the fact that the Chinese authorities are at the very least seeking to use the idea to scare India"straight" during the latest round of their negotiation of outstanding border issues. India, of course, is not amused:

The government of New Dehli made an official protest for the content of an article appeared on a Chinese site that aims to divide India in “20-30 small states” giving support to guerillas and nationalist movements present on the territory of the great nation or abroad.

Posted on April 8 on the website of International Institute for Strategic Studies the article detailed a roadmap for breaking up India. There it is stated: “To split India, China can bring into its fold countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, support ULFA in attaining its goal in Assam’ independence, back aspirations of Indian nationalities like Tamil and Nagas, encourage Bangladesh to give a push to the independence of West Bengal and lastly recover the 90,000 sq km territory in southern Tibet.”

The Government of India made inquiries about how much this website has the support of the Chinese Government and logged a protest. The Indian media spoke of a “quasi-official Chinese website”.

To further complicate matters, attention must be paid to the confliccannot be understood apart from the potential conflict inherent in the need to share Himalayan water sources at a time that demand for green energy increase even more the importance of dam generated electricity. China is planning to lead electric car production and use. Kenneth Pomeranz points out that Chinese water projects may have seriously consequences for her neighbors to the south:

Hundreds of millions of people further downstream depend on rivers that start in the Himalayas. States to China’s south that have ambitious plans to harness their waters are worried that Chinese initiatives may preempt their own current or future usage. The massive hydroelectric dam and water-diversion scheme on the great bend of the Yalong Zangbo River is a case in point.

The 40,000 megawatt hydro project is itself a huge issue. But what matters more for people south of the Himalayas is that the plan not only calls for impounding huge amounts of water behind the dam, but for changing the direction in which the water flows beyond it—so that it would eventually feed into the South-to-North Transfer project. That water currently flows south into Assam to help form the Brahmaputra, which in turn joins the Ganges to form the world’s largest river delta, supplying much of the water to a basin with over 300 million inhabitants.

While India and Bangladesh have worried for some time that China might divert this river, Beijing has repeatedly denied any such intentions. But rumours persist that a diversion project is in fact underway, and Indian premier Manmohan Singh is said to have raised the question of river boundaries in his January 2008 visit to Beijing. The latest Chinese denial was issued by former water minister Wang Shucheng this May. . . .

Some projects now underway or being contemplated have considerably larger implications, both for the Chinese and for foreigners. The diversion of the Yalong Zangbo—if that is indeed on the agenda—would have the largest implications of all. If the waters could arrive in North China safely and relatively unpolluted—by no means sure—having generated considerable power along the way, the relief for China’s seriously strained hydro-ecology would be considerable.

On the other hand, the impact on eastern India and Bangladesh, with a combined population even larger than North China’s, could be devastating. The potential for such a project to create conflicts between China and India—and to exacerbate existing conflicts over shared waterways between India and Bangladesh—is clear.

All I can say is that Hillary has someone watching and making sure that American-Indian relations remain on track. Helping democratic India thrive should be a top American strategic priority. George W. Bush understood as much. It is time for Barack H. Obama to get it.

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