Political Science Water Politics in Asia
Lei Xie
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 May 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0309


Transboundary water courses abound in Asia, which is experiencing risks with regards to the use of water and the sustainability of water ecology. Many of the Asian states are facing growing pressures to react to global change, with a high level of both poverty and population growth. Asia’s water politics have been explored from a range of perspectives, reflecting the complicated discourses, processes, and narratives when the global South respond to water-related challenges. Within these nations, the low economic development level and the underdevelopment of key democratic institutions as well as limited knowledge in water management have posed challenges to the region to setting up efficient institutional arrangements to promote sustainable development. The geographical conditions make the sharing of international rivers more complicated. Large-scale rivers are often found to run through a number of countries, resulting in each state possessing asymmetric interests in the shared water resources. Vulnerability in the river basin is often unevenly spread among riparian states, adding to the difficulty of countries’ peacefully resolving tensions over the shared water resources. Moreover, regional security in South Asia is considered to be unstable and rapidly changing. Some international rivers run near national borders, complicating the existing border disputes in some places. Questions are raised if the region has developed strong resilience when faced with water-related risks such as water scarcity and degradation.


Works in this section provide systematic assessment of the river basins in Asia, each representing a distinctive perspective to investigating the governance of Asia’s river basins. Both Varis, et al. 2012 and Kattelus, et al. 2015 provide insights to analyze vulnerability of the major river basins. Hopper 2011 presents comprehensive findings on the implementation of integrated water resources management (IWRM) in Asia’s major river basins. Mirumachi 2015 proposes an analytical framework to understand the nature of cooperation and tensions in the management of river basins. Xie and Jia 2018 presents a comparative study to understand China’s policy rationale and practices in its sharing of major river basins in Asia. Weitz, et al. 2017 examines theoretical gaps found in the existing water nexus concept by incorporating insights from the integrative environmental governance literature that highlights the effects of governance instruments/systems. Yeophantong 2017 presents the role of non-state actors in the development of large hydroelectric projects.

  • Hopper, B. P. “Report on IWRM in Transboundary Basins, Unep-dhi and Centre for Water and Environment.” 2011.

    This report evaluates the implementation of IWRM in twenty-four transboundary basins in Asia, analyzing factors and key conditions for such initiatives to succeed.

  • Kattelus, M., M. Kummu, M. Keskinen, A. Salmivaara, and O. Varis. “China’s Southbound Transboundary River Basins: A Case of Asymmetry.” Water International 40.1 (2015): 113–138.

    DOI: 10.1080/02508060.2014.980029

    This article provides evidence on the uneven level of vulnerabilities between China and its downstream neighbors on its six river basins, including the Red River, Mekong, Salween, Irrawaddy, Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna(GBM), and Indus.

  • Mirumachi, N. Transboundary Water Politics in the Developing World. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203068380

    Apart from providing in-depth case analysis to understand the continuous tensions and diplomatic initiatives that states may have when sharing international rivers, this book also explores the role that decision-makers play in such processes.

  • Varis, O. Kummu, and A. Salmivaara. “Ten Major Rivers in Monsoon Asia-Pacific: An Assessment of Vulnerability.” Applied Geography 32 (2012): 441–454.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2011.05.003

    This article assesses the vulnerability faced by the ten major river basins in Asia. Its comprehensive analytical framework integrates socioeconomic aspects of risks, as well as ecological and environmental dimensions.

  • Weitz, N., C. Strambo, E. Kemp-Bendict, and M. Nilsson. “Closing the Governance Gaps in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Insights from Integrative Governance.” Global Environmental Change 45 (2017): 165–173.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.06.006

    This study examines conditions for water-energy-food nexus to be successfully applied in water governance on regional level. It is argued that political, ideological, and cognitive factors are among the most important factors for efficient administrative and/or technical solutions to be developed.

  • Xie, L., and S. Jia. China’s International Transboundary Rivers: Politics, Security and Diplomacy of Shared Water Resources. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2018.

    This book investigates China’s policy responses to domestic water crises and examines China’s international water policy as well as its strategy in dealing with international cooperation. Detailed case studies are included of the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Ili, and Amur rivers.

  • Yeophantong, P. “River Activism, Policy Entrepreneurship and Transboundary Water Disputes in Asia.” Water International 42.2 (2017): 163–186.

    DOI: 10.1080/02508060.2017.1279041

    Assesses the role that non-state actors play in the governance of transboundary rivers by examining the influence of river activism and its influence over the development of large hydroelectric projects.

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