Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Water: a source of connection and cooperation

Cooperation on trans-border rivers can be traced back to 1950s when it was initiated by then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru

Last month, the 10th meeting of China-India Expert Level Mechanism on Trans-border Rivers was successfully held in Delhi. The two sides discussed the remarkable achievements on trans-border river cooperation and signed the Implementation Plan upon Provision of Hydrological Information of the Langqen Zangbo/Sutlej River in Flood Season by China to India as the latest development of such cooperation.

Cooperation on trans-border rivers can be traced back to 1950s when it was initiated by then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and has continued till this day. For years, Chinese hydrological experts have made great efforts against all odds to provide high quality flood season hydrological data of Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River and Langqen Zangbo/Sutlej River to the Indian side.

In order to collect real-time data, hydrological stations are usually located in remote places with difficult access and harsh conditions. Experts at the grass-root level need to stay in those ill-equipped stations all year round away from family and home, even in the bitterly chilly winter mornings, monitoring river flow, measuring water level and compiling data every day.

Tsada station in Ali district of the Tibet Autonomous Region is an example. At an altitude of 4,500m, its oxygen level is less than half of normal. Due to the time lag, the one or two experts stationed there had to get up by 6am to get and process relevant data.

Even during the traditional New Year, Nimazhaxi cannot go back home. His 60-year-old mother travelled a whole week by train and bus, and walked all the way in heavy snow to the station for a family reunion. Two years ago, when the station was struck by a torrential flood, Yang Jian went all out to save the hydrological data, even though his personal belongings were gone with the flood water.

It’s not just only good faith to implement the agreements that prompts such sacrifice, but also amity and good neighbourliness, a linchpin of China’s neighbourhood policy. It is in this very spirit that China overcame many difficulties and released water from the Jinghong hydropower station in Yunnan province from 15 March to 10 April 2015, to provide much-needed water to drought-hit countries downstream the Lancang-Mekong River, a move hailed by those countries.

For China and India, the water that connects our two great nations is not just the trans-border rivers, but also the sacred lake, Manasarovar. In 2015, holy water from Manasarovar was fetched to mingle with that from the Ganges during Kumbh Mela.

This helped many Indians realize their dream of several generations. For many others who don’t have the opportunity, the Tibet Autonomous Region made some mementos of the holy water from Manasarovar. When former Chinese ambassador to India presented the special memento to a senior Indian official, the official said to the effect that the memento linked with Manasarovar is like a USB, instantly connecting the bottom of the heart of the Indian people.

Her words reminds me of a Chinese poem, Living in the Upstream of the River:

“I live upstream and you downstream.

Every night of you I dream.

In mind, though are not in sight,

From the same river we both drink."

China and India both drink from the same rivers and lake. Indeed, water can well become a source of connection and cooperation. In addition to providing hydrological data, China also works with India in handling emergencies in trans-border rivers, such as when barrier lakes in Langqen Zangbo/Sutlej River were blocked in 2004 and 2008.

There is a lot more that we can do together in water management, including water supply and service, purification of seawater, treating water pollution, well drilling, etc. For example, a Chinese company in Gujarat, TBEA, helped drill two wells in the local community, effectively addressing water shortage. This year’s heat wave in India has aggravated the problem of drought.

China can help with drip irrigation technologies, water conserving equipment and know-how to deal with drought. In this regard, I learnt that Guangdong province and Madhya Pradesh state are discussing water conservancy cooperation in the face of drought. I believe our cooperation has great potential and promise.

The Chinese people say that supreme virtue is like water, which nourishes all things without competing with each other. As long as we work in amity and good neighbourliness, instead of being a point of competition and confrontation, our shared water resources can be a source of connection and cooperation.

Liu Jinsong is chargé d’affaires at the Chinese embassy.

Close