China’s Water Hegemony in Asia

WASHINGTON TIMES — A severe drought currently ravaging Southeast and South Asia has helped spotlight China’s emergence as the upstream water controller in Asia through a globally unparalleled hydroengineering infrastructure centered on damming rivers. Indeed, Beijing itself has highlighted its water hegemony over downstream countries by releasing some dammed water for drought-hit nations in the lower Mekong River basin.

In releasing what it called “emergency water flows” to downstream states over several weeks from one of its six giant dams — located just upstream of where the Mekong flows out of Chinese territory — China brashly touted the utility of its structures in fighting droughts and floods.

But for the downriver countries, the water release was a jarring reminder of not just China’s newfound power to control the flow of a life-sustaining resource, but also of their own reliance on Beijing’s goodwill and charity. With 14 additional dams being built or planned by China on the Mekong, this dependence on Chinese goodwill is set to deepen — at some cost to their strategic leeway and environmental security.

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