China: We Will "Fight for Every Drop of Water or Die"
flows through China to Burma and out into the Andaman Sea. It is one of Asia’s last wild rivers. Unimpeded by dams, it runs through remote southeastern China and the jungles of Burma and carved out what is called the “Grand Canyon of the East” by travelers.The Nu may not be “wild” much longer. Beijing has dusted off years-old plans to dam the river, and the countries downstream (not to mention environmentalists and other activists) are furious.The New York Times story on the proposed dams goes into great detail about the environmental sensitivities involved in the project and the impact on locals, tens of thousands of whom will be displaced by flooding caused by the dams, but it only touches lightly on the important geopolitical angle of riparian disputes like this one.Millions of Burmese and Thai farmers and fishermen downstream will be the biggest losers if China dams the Nu. “We’re talking about a cascade of dams that will fundamentally alter the ecosystems and resources for downstream communities that depend on the river,” Katy Yan, an environmental advocate, told the Times.Burma and Thailand are not the only countries indignant about Chinese plans to dam cross-border rivers, and the Nu is not the only river at the center of an international dispute. In fact, ten major rivers flow out of China into eleven neighboring countries. India, for example, is embroiled in a disagreement with China over a proposal to build three new dams on the Brahmaputra River, which also flows through Bangladesh.As in other international disagreements, China will continue to play the role of regional strongman when it comes to cross-border rivers, forcing neighbors to band together to balance Beijing. In the future, disputes like this will only get more intense as the pressure grows on China and neighboring countries alike to use river resources for agriculture, electricity, jobs, and much else. As Wen Jiabao once said, water scarcity threatens the “survival of the Chinese nation.” Almost any other head of state in Asia could say the same. Unfortunately, there may not always be enough rivers to go around.[Nu river when it gets down between Burma and Thailand, courtesy Wikimedia]