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The Water Hegemon

NEW DELHI – International discussion about China’s rise has focused on its increasing trade muscle, growing maritime ambitions, and expanding capacity to project military power. One critical issue, however, usually escapes attention: China’s rise as a hydro-hegemon with no modern historical parallel.

No other country has ever managed to assume such unchallenged riparian preeminence on a continent by controlling the headwaters of multiple international rivers and manipulating their cross-border flows. China, the world’s biggest dam builder – with slightly more than half of the approximately 50,000 large dams on the planet – is rapidly accumulating leverage against its neighbors by undertaking massive hydro-engineering projects on transnational rivers.