China defended its ambitious network of dams Tuesday, saying that it is developing its rivers in a responsible way and would never do anything to harm the interests of neighbours who live downstream of the Tibetan plateau.
The Associated Press reported over the weekend that China’s dams projects on rivers flowing from the Himalayan region have sparked fears in Southeast Asian countries that the development could trigger natural disasters, hurt the environment and divert water supplies.
Among the complaints are that fish supplies are dwindling downstream and that a burst Chinese dam may have caused a flash flood. A few analysts and environmental advocates speak of water as a future trigger for war or diplomatic strong-arming, though others strongly doubt it will come to that.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Tuesday said Beijing always considers downstream countries when choosing dam projects and would never harm their interests.
“China always pays great attention to the impact that these kinds of developments might exert on resources, the environment and ecosystems and takes the concerns of downstream countries into consideration,” Hong said.
“As a responsible upstream country, we will never harm the interests of downstream countries,” he said.
On the eight great Tibetan rivers alone, almost 20 dams have been built or are under construction while some 40 more are planned or proposed.
Though China is not alone in disrupting the region’s water flows, suspicions are heightened by Beijing’s lack of transparency and refusal to share most hydrological and other data. Only China, along with Turkey, has refused to sign a key 1997 U.N. convention on transnational rivers.