Flows and Flaws: Diverting the Debate on Water with China

2 January 2016

China’s growing water thirst lends an urgency to understand China’s resource choices, the possible conditions under which it is likely to exercise these choices and the ripple effects these are likely to have across the borders. While overinterpretation and hysteria has tended to take the place of informed scholarship and media, India’s official narrative has largely tended to downplay many of these concerns. The paper argues that the debate has also unwittingly ended up being a single-issue debate fixated on water diversion, in the process inadvertently diverting attention away from other equally important issues. Can we frame the water debate with China in ways that can create institutional entry points for a whole set of missing issues that are currently invisible to the mainstream policy and research gaze? India and China’s willingness to begin a subregional conversation on regional public goods could pave the way to designing norms of benefit sharing, negotiating trade-offs, and allocating risks and burdens on collective goods and bads in the region.