Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, is a PhD candidate at Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Guwahati, Assam and Panchali Saikia is Scientific Officer-Social Science, International Water Management Institute, New Delhi at the International Water Management Institute, New Delhi. Both were part of ICS delegations of scholars to China in December 2015 and April 2016 respectively.
China’s engagement with India on Yarlung Tsangpo/ Yaluzangbu-Brahmaputra water cooperation has been limited to mere Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) – mostly related to hydrological information (limited to water level, discharge and rainfall in flood seasons) on the river by China to India. These MoUs fall short of the objective of ‘Strengthening Cooperation on Trans-Border Rivers’ or of the obligations of a bilateral treaty. Beijing has time and again spurned India’s proposal of having any water treaty or establishing institutionalized cooperation towards having mutual rights and responsibilities on management of the shared rivers. It is often seen that Chinese officials and academics are either reluctant to address or ambiguous in their responses to questions concerning YarlungTsangpo-Brahmaputra River. This strongly supports the general impression that China stresses on the full sovereignty of the riparian state over the water within its boundary and may use it according to its needs, even in the case of transboundary rivers. As an upper riparian, China’s approach towards engaging with the lower riparian countries, be it on the Mekong or the Brahmaputra, has been strategically placed rather than establishing commitments or acknowledging any regional concerns of the river basins.