Chinese Mega Hydropower Projects Pose Threats to Asian Neighbors
China’s massive hydropower projects, driven by its goal to maintain its position as the world’s largest producer of renewable energy, are coming under scrutiny for their lack of accountability and adverse impact on neighboring countries in Asia. With over 98,000 dams already in operation, China continues to build even more infrastructure to ramp up its hydropower capacity. However, the consequences of these projects are raising concerns among its Asian neighbors.
The Three Gorges Dam, completed in 2012, stands as the world’s largest hydropower project, generating over 22,500 MW of electricity. China’s subsequent endeavors, such as the Baihetan Dam and plans for the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam on the Brahmaputra River, further highlight the country’s determination to dominate the hydroelectricity sector.
While China views these mega projects as a means to become a hydro-hegemon, neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam have experienced the negative repercussions. Chinese dams have been accused of withholding upstream water during drought periods, leading to significant drops in the flow of rivers like the Mekong. This has severely impacted agriculture, fisheries, and the livelihoods of millions of people in these countries.
The lack of accountability in China’s implementation of these projects has detrimental consequences. Bangladesh, heavily reliant on rivers like the Brahmaputra, has suffered irreversible damage to its ecosystem and livelihoods due to China’s hydropower plants. Similar issues have arisen in other Southeast Asian countries, where the Mekong River’s water level and productivity have been affected by Chinese dams.
One of the concerns lies in China’s dominance as an upper riparian country—the starting point of major rivers in Asia. This gives Beijing the advantage of exploiting water resources for its own benefit without considering the needs of downstream countries. The absence of China as a signatory to transboundary water treaties further exacerbates the situation, as it operates with unilateralism and intimidation.
China’s mega hydropower projects have not only had environmental repercussions but have also led to displacement of the local population and created significant debt burdens for lower riparian countries in South and Southeast Asia. The pursuit of hydroelectricity is being used as a tool to assert China’s hegemony in the region.
As China continues to push forward with its hydropower ambitions, it is crucial to address the negative impacts on neighboring countries. International cooperation and accountability are necessary to ensure the sustainable management of shared water resources. The adverse effects of China’s hydropower projects cannot be overlooked, and the concerns raised by neighboring countries must be taken into consideration for a balanced and mutually beneficial approach.