Flat White

Blood in the water

17 March 2021

4:00 AM

17 March 2021

4:00 AM

Tibet is a glass of water balanced at the top of the world. 

It occupies the crumple zone leftover from a head-on collision between India and Eurasia, where the ground was forced thousands of feet upwards into an impassable landscape of mountains and glaciers. The sheer height of the Himalayas changed global weather cycles forever, starting the famous Indian monsoons while drying central Asia out into a panorama of deserts. 

In its grasp collects the third largest mass of water-ice after Antarctica and the Arctic. Whether you call it the ‘water tower’ or ‘third pole’, these glaciers feed ten of the world’s largest rivers, sustaining nearly half of the population in Southeast Asia through fishing and agriculture. 

The Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Salween, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yellow, and Ganges river systems all start in Tibet, under control of the occupying Communist Party of China. Their precious reservoirs are trapped behind China’s ever-increasing network of pipeline mega-structures and colossal hydro-electric dams, approved by the United Nations as ‘green energy’. China’s infrastructure projects are used to hold downstream neighbours hostage – coercing their politics under the threat of drought or flood. 

These rivers are crucial to global strategic partners in Pakistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh, and India – nullifying paper treaties with tangible risk. 

If you think it’s strange that the ultra-environmentally-paranoid United Nations would express ‘concern’ about Australia’s plan to raise the wall on the Warragamba Dam by a mere fourteen metres, but sign off on damming the largest river systems in the world, you have to remember that China spent a lot of money buying Africa’s votes to secure a tick of approval. Considering there are only widely ignored memorandums of understanding governing shared waterways, even if a nation wanted to complain about China’s dams, where would they lodge their complaint without risking retaliation? Certainly not at the United Nations. 

Sensing the threat, some Asian nations have engaged in deals in the hope of maintaining political independence while keeping China’s hands off the taps. Thailand has signed a deal to buy hydroelectric power from China while Cambodia and Laos remain politically passive on subjects they’d otherwise voice dissent over. Pakistan, the nation China is taking particular care with as a military threat to India, has a special relationship in which China has pinky-promised not to build any dams that endanger Pakistan’s water supply. 

There is no such liberty on offer for Tibet. 

Mao took Tibet by force in 1951. By declaring his actions a ‘liberation’ rather than an annexation, China was able to falsely claim that Tibet had always been Chinese. To criticise China’s policy was therefore an aggressive act of foreign interference against internal Chinese politics. The people of Tibet never stood a chance. Much like modern Hong Kong, the machine of Communism consumed them without stirring the world’s armies who are yet to live through the true fallout of this geopolitical indifference. 

The Tibetan Plateau has long been seen as a place of spiritual awakening, inhabited by a deeply isolated people. It is a land of monks, mysticism, and colourful temples perched like nests against the cliffs. To China, it is a resource buffet. 

What have they been building? I’d need to ransom a hundred thousand words out of my editor to list the extent of China’s ambition… 

Estimates for cost are difficult to come by, but China’s water projects are approaching a trillion dollars. They are scattered over the Belt and Roads Initiative in addition to the notorious South-North Water Transfer Project which has been widely criticised – sometimes denied as conspiracy – since Mao first brought it up in 1952. It comes in three parts, the Eastern Route, Central Route, and Western Route which are all as mad as each other. 

In one example, a series of hydro plants and reservoirs are to be built within the Yaluzangbu’s gorges of such scale that they threaten to make the Three Gorges Dam look like a kid’s Lego set, allowing China to block the flow of the river entirely, cutting India off, destroying the Brahmaputra River basin, and ruining the Assam region. 

China plans to dam the sacred Tibetan river of Yarlung Tsangpo to build the world’s largest hydroelectric plant under the guise of achieving ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2060. In lore, the river represents the body of the goddess Dorje Pagmo – a revered figure in Tibet. Their culture forbids artificial interference with natural watercourses, but Tibetans have no say what happens inside their own nation. 

Resistance from Tibetans may not be a concern for much longer, with the Chinese government declaring large parts of Tibet as wilderness areas in the spirit of environmental protection. This classification is then used to forcibly remove locals from their ancestral homes while China’s policy of ‘cultural unity’ in Tibetan towns combined with a deliberate mass migration program of Han Chinese has created a cultural genocide. 

The people of Tibet are disposed of faster than their resources are ripped out of the ground. Sure, it qualifies as ‘green energy’ but at what cost to the environment? 

The damming of the Mekong has already produced disastrous results for downstream Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. In what looks like all the worst bits of Greta Thunberg’s dystopian speeches, fishing villages that usually poke out on stilts from deep water rivers are left awkwardly balanced in the mud, staring down at filthy pools and beached canoes. Lakes that normally feed millions are so shallow that they can be crossed on foot. China has been accused of optimising its power output from the hydroelectric stations at the expense of environmental water management. 

The Communist Party can complain all it likes about ‘malicious’ commentary, but the fact remains that the Mekong was sitting at its lowest level in a century, sending ASEAN members into drought. China controls the Mekong’s flow with seven dams in operation and another twenty on the books. Despite sudden floods in 2020 distracting the press from water shortages, it does not change the fact that China deliberately held back water from desperate regions, allowing an environmental catastrophe to play out downstream. The behaviour has permanently disrupted the normal flood cycle. With an above-average rainfall upstream – the problem wasn’t the climate, it was China. 

China’s water is disappearing because its population has ballooned to 1.398 billion. In particular, it is trying to build cities in the middle of deserts by pumping water uphill through canals and pipes, wasting much of the diverted water in evaporation. In a scheme that makes Turnbull’s Snowy Hydro look like some old bloke carrying buckets of water uphill, China has plans to build 1,000 km of tunnels to transport water from Tibet to Xinjiang, diverting 15 billions tonnes of water that normally flow into India and Bangladesh’s most important rivers in order to support an unsustainable city. 

“It won’t leave a mark on the surface for other countries or environmental activists to point their fingers at,” said Wang Wei, a researcher on the project. One can only assume that he means aside from the complete transformation of the desert landscape in Xinjiang. 

All of this was hotly denied after the project leaked in 2017, but as of 2020 an emboldened China has stepped out of the shadows and acknowledged that its South-to-North Water Diversion Project (along with the West-East Power Transfer Project) is moving forward. It constitutes no less than the complete reshaping of China’s major waterways to support cities in the unsuitable, arid North. It is nothing short of monstrous. 

Far from the hysterical claims of climate change, Tibet’s fresh water supply has been endangered by mining projects. 

China is carving up Tibet for its copper, zinc, lead, chromium, mercury, uranium, and iron. In doing so, the Communist government has deforested vast areas leading to erosion, pollution, and siltation (in which previously clean water fills with silt). Lithium mines poison grasslands and rivers, killing both fish and local villagers. According to the Washington Post, the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine destroyed their river in 2009 with toxic chemicals. 

Protesters trying to protect the environment are frequently shot at, beaten, tear-gassed, tortured, detained, or have their welfare cancelled (which they require to survive after Chinese projects destroyed their farming). The government deliberately interferes with the topography of the landscape, artificially altering the courses of rivers, seeding the sky with chemicals to make it rain, and literally moving mountains. 

China’s water problem would not be so severe if it had not already polluted its water to the point of putrefaction. For all the virtuous five stars the United Nations bestows on them, China is one of the filthiest places on Earth. Communism is not environmentally friendly. Industrial waste from its factories and household effluent flows untreated into rivers and lakes with 80% of China’s cities having no sewage treatment plants. Rather than building solar panels and wind turbines, China would do better to clean up its act considering 43% of rivers are so badly polluted that they are not fit for human contact – let alone consumption. Heavy metals have seeped into the groundwater and cities that border the coast pump their waste across ocean-farms, contaminating seafood. 

Because of the Communist Party’s mismanagement of their waterways, 1.3 billion people drink water considered unacceptably high in arsenic, fluorine, sulphates, and radiation. This is the same government that has taken control of the precious freshwater resource in Asia. Even without Xi Jinping’s dubious geopolitics and war-mongering, he is not the person to put in charge of Asia’s water security. 

For Mao, Tibet was the right palm of the Himalayas and its five fingers were the regions of Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, and Arunachal Pradesh. Reclaiming them is considered a matter of national pride for the CCP. In 2017, an article by Liu Litao confirmed that Xi Jinping has every intention of continuing the encirclement of India – encroaching on boarders and picking fights in the rafters of the world. China has already used the Belt and Road initiative to conquer strategic military ports of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan. While not even its trillion dollars can move the Himalayas out of the way, Xi Jinping can torment India by waterboarding her regions. 

The primitive hand-to-hand scuffles on the Sino-Indian border might seem strange as they occasionally grace the headlines of the West, but for these two superpowers, military supremacy in the desolate region is fundamental to survival. China has already permanently altered several river systems, preventing them from entering India while using earthquakes to conceal explosive charges collapsing valleys into makeshift lakes. 

We might not be able to free Tibet, but we can certainly ask our woke politicians like Matt Kean why Australia props up China and its barbaric anti-environmental programs. His words are not just ramblings of a Green MP [sic] bridging two portfolios that have no business being conjoined. Scott Morrison has verbally committed Australia to ‘net zero 2050’ while Angus Taylor is a bit wishy-washy when it comes to the closing of our baseload plants instead of pushing forward with the obvious – nuclear power. 

Unless we want to be known as the ‘candlestick of the south’, Australia has to invest in itself rather than abetting Xi Jinping’s neighbourhood mafia. There is blood in that precariously balanced glass of water. China is readying itself for military conflict, and not only are we topping up their credit card – we’re lending them our strategic ports. 

This can lead us to only one conclusion – we are governed by the dumbest politicians in history. 

Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at Ko-Fi.

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