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China should aim to begin construction within the year on the giant hydropower project, a senior Tibetan Communist Party official was quoted as saying on Monday. Comprehensive planning and environmental impact assessments for the project should be completed as soon as possible, Che Dalha, chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, said in a delegation briefing issued by China's parliament.
The river Brahmaputra flows for about 2,900 km (1,800 miles) through Tibet, India and Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal. The "Yarlung Tsangbo (as the river is known in Tibet) downstream hydropower base" was listed in China's new five-year plan last week as one of the country's major energy development projects for the 2021-2025 period.
China could build up to 60 gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity on the river, state media have reported, which would make it the world's biggest hydropower project, overtaking China's 22.5 GW Three Gorges Dam.
India is considering plans to build its own dam on the river to increase its water storage capacity and counteract the impact of the Chinese project, an official said last year, according to Reuters.
China's five-year plan suggests that a number of long-pending proposals to build dams on the lower reaches, including near the border with India, may be approved.
India has expressed concerns to China over the four planned dams on the upper and middle reaches, though Indian officials have said the dams are not likely to greatly impact the quantity of the Brahmaputra's flows in India because they are only storing water for power generation. Also, they say, the Brahmaputra is not entirely dependent on upstream flows with an estimated 35% of its basin in India.
Dams on the lower reaches and at the Great Bend are likely to raise concerns in India because of the location across the border from Arunachal Pradesh and the potential impact downstream.
The hydropower project is in the spotlight at a time Indian and Chinese troops have been pulling back at flashpoints in Ladakh as part of de-escalation after months of conflict.
India and China last month began to pull back troops and battle tanks from the Pangong lake area high in the Himalayas. Similar disengagement is expected in other areas like Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra.
The standoff began in April last when Chinese troops intruded into India's side of the Line of Actual Control or the de facto border in the Ladakh area.
(with inputs from Reuters)