China’s 5 Year Plan (2021-2025): Proposed Dam on River Brahmaputra

The five-year plans are a sequence of economic and social development initiatives furnished by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) since 1949. The five-year plans were inspired by the five-year plans from the USSR and the focus was on launching new schemes, reforms and setting new growth targets.

Since the 11th five-year plan (2006-2010), the Chinese government has mentioned it as ‘Guidelines’ instead of plans. Currently China is on its 14th five-year plan/ guidelines. Unlike the previous five year plans, there is no specific GDP growth target and instead, the government announced that growth would be kept in “reasonable range” and an annual target would be set based on the specific conditions each year. The focus of the current plan is on self-sufficiency as the country had to endure difficulty after the United States had restricted China’s major chip makers from using American technology. Other areas of focus will be on the above 7 percent growth in the research and development spending. The government will also try to raise the urban residents to 65 percent of the population while maintaining green development and increasing the life expectancy by 1 year. Infrastructure will also be an area of priority with a focus on high-quality development of the belt and road initiative.

One of the biggest infrastructure projects of the 14th The five-year plan (2021-2025) has been officially approved to build a series of dams in the lower reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet before it flows into India.

The proposed dam would be in Medog, Tibet region will have a maximum possible capacity of 60 gigawatts and could potentially produce 300 billion kWh annually. The location is an area called ‘the great bend’ also known as ‘Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon’ where the river goes through a very drastic U-turn and then the river descents from an elevation of 3000 meters to around 800 meters. Due to the drastic elevation change, the river flow is quite strong and is also an ideal location to build the dam.

The location of the dam could be a strategically risky move by china as it is very close to the Indian border but the other issue is that this proposed dam can undermine the water security of India. India relies heavily on the Brahmaputra River for agriculture and various other purposes.  Due to this, the proposed Dibang Dam by India in downstream (Arunachal Pradesh) might be the solution to offset the effect of the Chinese proposed dam. Although the majority of the catchment area of Brahmaputra is on the Indian side there is still the issue of water flow from the upstream as Assam usually suffers from floods in the rainy season and any additional water flow from the Chinese dam would make the situation worse. The problem will not only affect India but also Bangladesh due to its low-lying land and flood-prone region. Problem is that the region is ecologically diverse and sensitive and any kind of development in this region will negatively affect the ecology of this region. Due to turbulent tectonic plates, there are high chances of landslides and earthquakes as well. India will have to be vigilant and develop its strategy according to the developments on the Chinese side.