Scalar water politics and competing development visions in China’s transboundary Himalayan river basins: what role for international water law?

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Abstract

Himalayan basins are under increasing strain from political and social conflicts, economic and population growth, and climate change. China’s position as upstream riparian has come under intense scrutiny inside and outside the region as its technological, economic and diplomatic power has given Beijing the ability to undertake unilateral development of its river stretches. The article follows arguments within the international water law literature that China’s position in transboundary water cooperation is dynamic and evolving and increasingly falling into line with international water law principles of equitable and reasonable utilisation and causing no harm. By drawing on the international relations literature and using the Mekong basin as a case study, I argue, however, that this position is subject to domestic and foreign policy agendas, which determine China’s approach to its neighbours and border regions.

The article explores this complex problem by discussing literature from international water law and international relations. By doing so it situates river basin institutions at the intersection of overlapping sectoral and scalar processes. Applying this framework to the current developments regarding the Mekong basin institutionalisation, the article demonstrates how these issues can lead to politicised institutions that leave little room for the application of international water law principles. The paper argues that a regional approach to water cooperation, including the development of a joint regional development narrative, may prove a successful driver of regional water cooperation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-238
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Water Law
Volume26
Issue number5 and 6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

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