By Bikash Sarmah
The mighty Brahmaputra has its own mysterious ways but Chi would beat its own mystery trumpet, given its grand designs to divert the river to feed its Yellow River in its northwest. Some facts of life follow here as to its design of the Brahmaputra diversion project. A very revealing article in On Line Opinion – a renowned Australian e-mail jourl on social and political debates – by Arthur Thomas posted way back on 2 May 2008 gives a detail of what Chi is up to, and this is not without reason. Titled “Diverting the Brahmaputra: Start of the Water Wars?”, it says exactly the following.
The reason for Chi’s intransigence on Tibet is simple. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always referred to Tibet as Chi’s Water Tower and considers it key to sustaining Chi’s northwest in water, revitalising its deserts and the Yellow River itself, as well as being crucial to its Himalayan Strategy.
To guarantee Chi’s water needs, Beijing’s excessive and often disastrous policies seriously endanger the survival of hundreds of millions in countries downstream on trans-tiol rivers that rise in Tibet. One such plan is the unsustaible diversion of a river’s flow into north western Chi. That river is the Yarlung Tsangbo, that when crossing the Indian border, becomes the Brahmaputra.
Initially referred to as the Shoutian Cal, the brainchild of hydro geologist Guo Kai caught the attention of the military in 1988.
1989: The “Preparatory Committee for the Shoutian Cal” was formed and headed by three senior generals.
1996: The west became aware of the project.
Late 1990s: 208 NPC (tiol People’s Congress) deputies and 118 CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) delegates produced 16 proposals supporting the project.
May 18-June 22, 1999: An official survey covered 13,600km and calculated that 600B m3 per year of the Brahmaputra waters were being wasted in Tibet.
1999: Jiang Zemin announced the “xibu da kaifa” (Great Western Extraction) that would transfer huge volumes of water from Tibet into the Yellow River. It was now fully supported by 118 generals, and the Politburo. It inspired Li Ling’s book How Tibet’s Water Will Save Chi, detailing Guo Kai’s “Shuo-tian” (reverse flow) cal as the solution to chronic water shortages in Chi’s dry north and northwest.
2000: Leaked reports include “Chinese leaders are drawing up plans to use nuclear explosions, in breach of the intertiol test ban treaty, to blast a tunnel through the Himalayas for the world’s biggest hydroelectric plant”.
July 2003: Small article in the People’s Daily “Chi to Conduct Feasibility Study on Hydropower Project in Tibet”. The text ran “Chi plans to conduct a feasibility study in October on the construction of a major hydropower project on the Yarlung Zangbo River in the TAR. An expert team was sent to the area for prelimiry work between late June and early July.”
Li Guoying director, Yellow River Water Conservancy Committee said “the project was essential because the Yellow River’s current flow is being exhausted by development demands in western Chi”.
November 2005: Strategy manual Save Chi Through Water From Tibet adopted by the PLA, relevant ministries and directorates.
That is the essence of the great article. Now hear this out. An article carried by Southern Weekend in 2006 says the following exactly:
“The card of 73-year-old Guo Kai bears witness to his achievements. As well as being vice director and secretary-general of the Shuotian Cal preparatory committee and board chairman for the Beijing Shuotian Consultancy & Development Co, the Shuotian Cal proposed along the Great Western Route was Guo’s brainchild, making him the project’s initiator and chief designer.
During the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-76) Guo was kept in a detention center. One day from the garbage heap he happened to find geologist Weng Wenhao’s Chi Geography in English. Intrigued by Weng’s theories on the Tibetan hydrographic net, Guo who had audited hydrology courses at Tsinghua University began to wonder as to the possibilities of diverting Tibetan rivers. He calculated that if water from the Nujiang, Lancang, Jinsha, Yalong and Dadu rivers in Tibet were diverted through the Aba divide, a solution could be provided to the crippling water shortage felt in north and northwest Chi.
After his rehabilitation, he consulted with experts from the Ministry of Water Resources and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). He also persevered in making his own on-the-spot investigations.
For Guo, the “Great Western Route” held the key to all the water shortage and desertification problems facing north-northwest areas, as well as being vital to the country’s strategic security. Quoted in the Southern Weekend on July 27, Guo also stated that the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway signified that the 230,000 engineering staff attached to the project could now turn their attention to extending its branch line to Shuomatan on the Yalu Tsangpo River to pave the way for the start of the project.
In 1988, Guo’s Great Western Route first caught the attention of the military. Events progressed quickly and one year later, Zhang Jinong, the then minister of water resources, established the preparatory committee for the Shuotian Cal. Since its founding, the committee has been headed up by army generals including Xu Guangyi, Gao Cunxin and Wang Dinglie.
“During the 1934-36 Long March after we trekked through the grassy swamps in Sichuan Province and filly arrived in the Gansu Corridor, we had nowhere to find water,” recalled General Wang, 88, former air force vice commander. “After liberation I stayed in Xinjiang for five months, and further experienced the hardships of life caused by water shortage in western Chi.”
The project, which has obtained support from a total of 118 generals so far, has a large backing among the NPC (tiol People’s Congress) deputies and CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) members with military backgrounds. In the 90s, 208 NPC deputies and 118 CPPCC members came out with proposals supporting the project, six and ten times respectively.
With its estimated investment of over 200 billion yuan (US$25.1 billion), the Great Western Route project is revealed in great detail in Save Chi Through Water From Tibet, a book published by Li Ling in November 2005, after having worked on it for 17 years. The book met with immediate success, with 10,000 copies having been ordered by various central government ministries and commissions, among which the Ministry of Water Resources alone bought 100 copies at a time.”
In continuation with my earlier two write-ups on the Brahmaputra vis-à-vis Northeast India (carried by this newspaper in this column last two Sundays), I would simply say that unless Indian diplomacy is smart enough to think ahead of times, Chi would outsmart us sooner rather than later. But what is the Chi advantage factor? This is enormous. Wait for more revelations next week.
(Bikash Sarmah, a freelance jourlist, is doing independent research on Chi’s hydropolitics and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)