BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY
NEW DELHI – Asia, the world’s largest and fastest-developing continent, has less fresh water per capita than any other continent. This has helped foster growing interstate and intrastate disputes over shared water resources. An MIT study published this year found a high risk that Asia’s current water crisis could worsen to severe water shortages by 2050.
In this light, water is emerging as a key challenge for long-term Asian peace and stability. Yet Asia’s maritime-security challenges draw much greater international attention than its river-water disputes. This is largely because sea-related issues, such as in the South China Sea, affect even outside powers by threatening the safety of sea lanes and freedom of navigation. The truth is this: Asia’s sharpening competition over transnationally shared freshwater resources holds strategic ramifications just as ominous as those relating to maritime territorial disputes.
Recent developments are highlighting how the competition and fight over shared water resources is a major contributory factor to the growing geopolitical discord and tensions in Asia.
In fact, China’s “territorial grab” in the South China Sea has been accompanied by a quieter “freshwater grab” in transnational river basins. Re-engineering transboundary water flows is integral to China’s strategy to employ power, control and influence to fashion a strongly Sino-centric Asia.