Friday, August 8, 2014

China’s ominous development projects along Indian borders

Zhang Yijiong in Tibet
Here is my article published in NitiCentral. It is titled China’s ominous development projects along Indian borders.

Very few in India are bothered by what is happening on the other side of the great Himalayan range. It is too far away, though in the months and years to come, it may influence our lives in a way we can’t imagine today.
What is going on in western Tibet?

Very few in India are bothered by what is happening on the other side of the great Himalayan range. It is too far away, though in the months and years to come, it may influence our lives in a way we can’t imagine today.
The Chinese Press has already hinted that something was cooking on a grand scale.
The Global Times ran a story “Sky rail to run from Lhasa to south Tibet; further railway expansion to connect Nepal, Bhutan, India by 2020.”
It announced that the railway linking Lhasa and Shigatse (poetically termed by China as the ‘closest stretch of railway to the sky’) will be open to traffic in August.
The construction of the extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which started in September 2010, will be 254 km long and have 13 stations. Trains will be able to run at a speed of 120 kmph and it will take only 2 hours from Lhasa to Shigatse, the seat of the Panchen Lamas’ and the TAR’s second largest city.
It is the largest infrastructure project in Tibet during the twelfth 5-Year Plan (2011-2015), with an investment of more than $1.7 billion.
Zhu Bin, manager of a mineral company based in Lhasa, frankly admitted to The People’s Daily: “It will accelerate transportation of the mineral products, which could only be transmitted through highways that often risk being cut off during rainy seasons or see vehicle turnovers.”
Another raison d’être of the train is to bring more tourists, Tibet’s main source of revenue (15 million Chinese will visit Tibet in 2014) and to ‘strengthen’ the borders with India by allowing quick movement of troops and armament.
The Global Times also announced that during the 13th Five-Year Plan, the construction of a railway connecting Shigatse with Kyirong in northern Nepal and with Yatung, in the Chumbi Valley set between Sikkim and Bhutan, will start.
Yatung may be a distant dream, but Kyirong is a logical extension of the line as China has extensively invested in this landport to make it the main link between Tibet and Kathmandu, (and economically invade Nepal).But there is more happening in Tibet, particularly in the wilderness of Ngari, the prefecture located west of Ladakh and north of Himachal and Uttarakhand.
First, the unusually-long stay in the Prefecture of Deng Xiaogang, Deputy Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, responsible for the law and order, security and police, “to inspect the border security and the People’s Liberation Army bases”.
During the past two months, he spent most of his time in Western Tibet. On June 20, an article in The Tibet Daily mentions: “Deng Xiaogang inspected Rutok, the border county”. Rudok is located near the Pangong Lake (tso) stretching between India and China; it is where Chinese ‘water’ incursions often occur.
Addressing the border guards, Deng Xiaogang stressed: “Tibet is very special strategic location; it is an important barrier for the national security; development and stability in these border areas is an important part of the region’s overall situation.”
Why is China so nervous about these borders areas?
One reason is probably that China wants to reinforce its border with India, especially after the Modi Sarkar declared that one of its priorities was the development of infrastructure along the borders.
Deng has not been the only Chinese official to visit the beautiful (and strategic) Ngari.
Zhang Yijiong, Deputy Minister of the Central United Front Work Department, who is also the interlocutor-designate for eventual negotiations with the Dalai Lama’s envoys, followed the footsteps of Deng Xiaogang.
Zhang Yijiong visited Purang County, at the trijunction India-Nepal-Tibet, near Mt Kailash. One can be sure that his trip was not a spiritual one. He met policemen, firefighters (for preventing immolations?), officers and troops manning the border with India, the SWAT (commandos) and lectured them on the different aspects of ‘counter-terrorism’ and ‘stabilisation’.
Even more importantly, General Xu Qiliang, a member of the Politburo of the CCP’s Central Committee and one of the two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC) spent time ‘inspecting’ the Xinjiang and Tibet garrisons.
According to a Chinese military website: “Xu Qiliang recently [it is not disclosed when] inspected the troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) garrisoning Xinjiang and Tibet.”
Was the recrudescence of ‘intrusions’ into the Indian territorial waters on the Pangong lake and on the ground (near Demchok), which occurred around that time, a mere coincidence?
On June 24 and 25, the powerful Commander of PAPF, Wang Jianping had visited Lhasa and Ngari prefecture ‘to carry out investigations’. The boss of all paramilitary forces in China, an old Tibet hand (he was posted in Tibet between 1996 and 2000), emphasised that the troops should “resolutely work for the long term peace and stability of Tibet.”
General Wang Jianping’s visit was followed by the arrival in Lhasa of Meng Jianzhu, Politburo member and head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Central Committee. Meng spent five days in Lhasa and Southern Tibet. It is not known if Meng had time to drop by Ngari.
That is not all, Shaanxi Party Secretary Zhao Zhengyong also travelled to Western Tibet. Shaanxi is one of two provinces that have ‘adopted’ Ngari Prefecture by sending hundreds of cadre to carry out infrastructure and developmental projects.
Zhao said that Shaanxi province will incorporate Ngari’s development into its own overall plan, ‘to give impetus to Ngari Prefecture’s new developmental’.
Shaanxi has already donated funds to make Demchok, the border town with India into a ‘model village’ (the traditional Demchok village is in Ladakh, but the Chinese have built/renovated their own Demchok on their side of the LAC).
While CCTV showed new homes, a beautiful guest house (for visiting Chinese VIPS?), a Chinese website explained: “The border line [with India] passes through Dian-jiao [Demchok] village of Tashigang township .On Aug 2011, the Shaanxi donated 4 million US $ to Demchok village for making it a model border village by promoting economic development and consolidation of the border.”
All this is ominous. What to conclude?
These high-profile visits are linked with the railway line soon reaching Shigatse. This will bring a tremendous economic and strategic boost to the region, first around Shigatse and to the new landport in Kyirong which will become the most important link between Tibet and Nepal, but also in Ngari prefecture.
Beijing is keen to open these areas to large-scale tourism like it was earlier done in Lhasa and Nyingchi.
Is the construction of a new guest house in Demchok a sign that China may agree to open the traditional border between Tibet and India? Some voices in Tibet seem in favour, on a small scale at least.
From the Indian side, the situation should be watched vigilantly.

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