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China's dam boom stokes concerns in Asia

At a time when geopolitical competition in resource-poor Asia is sharpening over freshwater, mineral ores and fossil fuels, China's expansionary activities in the hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea have drawn considerable international attention, especially because of their implications for the global maritime order. By contrast, China's frenzy of dam-building to appropriate internationally shared water resources has not attracted a similar level of attention, despite the specter of potential water wars.

     China is almost unparalleled as a source of fresh water. Most of the major river systems of Asia originate from the Tibetan plateau, which was annexed by the People's Republic of China soon after its establishment in 1949. Xinjiang, another sprawling region it occupied forcibly, is the source of the Irtysh and Ili rivers, which flow to Kazakhstan and Russia. However, Beijing does not have a single water-sharing pact with the dozen countries located downstream of its rivers because it rejects the concept.

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