kazakh foreign minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev played down concerns that China's plans to siphon-off water from the Irtysh river would cause economic and ecological damage in the ex-Soviet republic. China revealed that it planned to build a canal in the far northwest of the country, diverting water from the Irtysh, a key artery which runs through Kazakhstan's industrial heartland before turning north into Siberian Russia.
"The Chinese revealed their plans about the canal for the first time," he told reporters via video link from the capital of Astana, referring to the first round of bilateral talks on the issue held from May 5 to 15 in China. Tokayev said the canal would siphon off around one billion cubic metres of water a year from the Kazakh section of the Irtysh, or about 10 per cent of the total flow. Experts have voiced concern about China's plans, saying that they could starve Kazakhstan enterprises of power and threaten vital shipping routes. "If the water levels along the Irtysh begin to fall, then shipping could be interrupted," the state-owned Khabar news programme said this week.