NEW DELHI – China has long regarded freshwater as a strategic weapon — one that the country’s leaders have no compunction about wielding to advance their foreign policy goals. After years of using its chokehold on almost every major transnational river system in Asia to manipulate water flows themselves, China is now withholding data on upstream flows to put pressure on downstream countries, particularly India.
For decades, China has been dragging its neighbors into high-stakes games of geopolitical poker over water-related issues. Thanks to its forcible annexation of Tibet and other non-Han Chinese ethnic homelands — territories that comprise some 60 percent of its landmass — China is the world’s unrivaled hydro-hegemon. It is the source of cross-border riparian flows to more countries than any other state.