Tuesday, January 21, 2014

India’s nightmares over Chinese bridge on Yarlung Tsangpo river

My article on the extension of the Lhasa railway line to the Indian border, India’s nightmares over Chinese bridge on Yarlung Tsangpo river appeared in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

It is the most strategic breaking news of the year.
China has officially announced that the construction of the Lhasa-Nyingtri railway line will start in 2014.
For India, it is an extremely serious (though expected) development.
Indian Army Chief Bikram Singh has just admitted some 'inadequacy' in the road and rail infrastructure along the borders with China, while assuring the Indian public that "the government is working to build the facilities there and has identified projects".
During his press conference, General Singh stated: "Only last year, the Centre had allocated Rs 9,200 crore for infrastructure along the borders with China and a Cabinet Committee on Security note had been prepared for another Rs 28,000-crore worth of projects for the 12th and the 13th Five-year Plans".
Too little, too late, to counter China: the Chinese train will soon reach India’s north-eastern border, close to the McMahon line.
On January 10, 2014, Lobsang Gyaltsen, the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) announced the forthcoming laying of the railway connecting Lhasa and Nyingtri Prefecture.
Gyaltsen made the announcement while presenting his government ‘work report’ to the Tibet Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Lhasa.
He asserted that the Lhasa-Nyingtri railway was right now at the feasibility study stage, with two designs leading southward and northward being under consideration; he explained that the new line will be the second extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The first one is the line from Lhasa to Shigatse, the second largest Tibetan city; it is scheduled to be opened before the end of the year. And in China, a ‘few months’ means a ‘few months’ and not a ‘few years or decades’ like in India.
In September already, the same official promised a Nepali delegation visiting Tibet that Beijing would extend a rail service to Nepal, once Shigatse line is operational.
The Nepali delegation had also requested China's help for the construction of a line from Kathmandu to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha near the Indian border. The Tibetan leader kept mum on the latter; the decision being probably out of his limited jurisdiction.
The last hurdle to Shigatse was cleared by crossing the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), near Shigatse: “The track-laying of the Lhasa-Shigatse railway has spanned the Yarlung Tsangpo River for the first time on September 24, 2013,” had announced Xinhua.
Beijing prided itself for this ‘iconic’ achievement: “…with a total length of 875 meters, the grand bridge strides across the river, marking the completion of an iconic difficult project of the railway.”
The Lhasa-Shigatse 253 km long railway started in 2010. The railway passed through one of the canyons of the Yarlung Tsangpo which is nearly 90 km long. With its 13 stations, the train which will be moving at 120 km an hour and will be able to carry an annual freight of 8.3 million tons.
The next stages on the drawing boards are Nepal and Nyingtri. Then Nepal will no longer be an enclaved country, depending on India to survive and the border of the sensitive Arunachal Pradesh (claimed by China) will be reached.
While delivering his ‘work report’, Lobsang Gyatsen mentioned the Party's four 'achievements' for 2013. He listed Beijing’s financial support in agriculture which reached 2.5 billion U.S. dollars and a 15% increase in education subsidy. However, the most important work was undoubtedly the 117-km highway linking Metok, ‘the last roadless County in China’; it was formally opened to traffic on October 31, 2013. Though it cost a whopping 155 million U.S. dollars to the Chinese exchequer, for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it was strategically worth opening up this remote border area.
This infrastructure development is in fact a smart investment. Gyaltsen admitted that Tibet received 13 million tourists in 2013 (400,000 more than the objective set by the Chinese Government) and 20 % more than in 2012. This last achievement earned 2.5 billion U.S. dollars in revenue. Selling the Land of Snows to the Han tourists is good business.
In a not-distant future, when the train reaches Nyingtri Prefecture, the area will become one of the two main tourist 'hubs' on the plateau (with Lhasa).
You will not believe it, but mass weddings of Han Chinese are already celebrated there; tourists come from the Mainland to party in this 'paradise on earth' for Valentine Day and the Brahmaputra gorges attract tens of thousands of Chinese tourists. Xi Jinping, then Vice-President, himself visited the ‘paradise’ in July 2011.
His visit was important because Xi is also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission and in the past, he advocated following Chairman Mao’s theory known as “the synthesis between the requirements of peacetime and war.” In other words, civilian infrastructure projects such as roads, airports and railways should be designed to also serve war-time needs (with India, in this particular case).
The main technical hurdle was solved when a tunnel to Metok was opened in December 2010 (at the time of Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India).
Another bird may be killed with the same stones (the road to Metok and the train to near Nyingtri), the new developments may allow the Chinese engineers to draw the plans for a mega power plant in the Great Bend.
And let us not forget that Bayi, located nearby in Nyingtri prefecture, (not far from by the Airport too), is the PLA’s main military 'hub' in Tibet. It is an ideal place for the People's Liberation Army (PLA), just a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line. It will soon be served by a railway line.
Bayi is a PLA town; ‘Bayi’ means 'Eight-one" or 'August 1' referring to the anniversary of the Nanchang Uprising, considered to be the founding date of the People's Liberation Army.
The name of 'Bayi' is 'copyrighted' by the PLA which is alone entitled to use it for important militarily projects/bases. The town of Bayi in Nyingtri Prefecture was established soon after the invasion of Tibet by the 18th Army (part of the Second Field Army based in Sichuan) in the early 1950s.
It is today one of the two main PLA bases in Tibet, coming under Chengdu Military Region.
A few days ago, Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra, the new GOC-in-C, Northern Command told reporters after his investiture at Akhnoor, near Jammu: “our aim for the next year is to ensure that our infrastructure and capability building, including construction of road network and habitats come up so that we have a reasonable position."
What is a ‘reasonable’ position when China is decades in advance?
Deterrence perhaps.

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