Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A New Airport In Lhasa ...and one in Amdo

Haixi Huatugou Airport in Amdo (Qinghai)
On August 30, I quoted Xinhua, announcing that Sichuan Province will soon have its fourth high-altitude airfield, “which local officials hope will boost tourism in the heavily Tibetan-populated region.”
The new Hongyuan Airport is located in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture at an altitude of 3,535 meters. The Prefecture is situated in northwestern Sichuan, at the border of Gansu and Qinghai provinces.
Less than two weeks later, Xinhua now reports that Qinghai Province 'located on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau' will be home to another airport.
The Huatugou aviation airport, presently under-construction, is being built in the Mongolian-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Haixi.
The Qinghai Airport Company said the airport will cover an area of 180 hectares and it will cost 114 million U.S. dollars.
It is a big investment for a Prefecture which, according the 2010 census, has 489,338 inhabitants only.
The airport will have a 3,600 meters runway and a terminal covering an area of some 3,000 square meters, which is relatively small.
The airport is expected to be completed within a year.
Why an airport in this area?
Xinhua gives one of rationales: "the airport is located in China's major production base for petroleum and potash fertilizer. It is expected to support local development."
Probably, the ‘local development’ with Chinese characteristics, in other words, 'Chinese economy at large'!
In 2011, a Chinese article gave a hint of the Chinese intentions: "The region is an important base for the production of crude oil; the surrounding is rich in oil, asbestos, potash and other scarce resources. The asbestos reserves rank first in the country; reserves of petroleum prospects are estimated at 1.1 billion tons. Though Qinghai is an important base for the production of crude oil, due to the remoteness, the limited transport conditions, the growth of the local economic and social development is restricted."
With connections to Xining, Delinkha, Golmud, Dunhuang, Gansu and Xinjiang, the new airport is expected to have an annual turn-over of 90,000 passengers and 100 tons of goods by 2020.
One understands better why it is a worthwhile investment.
Hongyuan Airport under construction

Further, the new airport is located close to the Xining-Golmund-Lhasa railway line and the China National Highway 315 (G315) which runs from Xining, the capital of Qinghai to Kashgar in Xinjiang. The 3,063 kilometres long highway passed in Delinkha. The new infrastructure will be used to link the restive province of Xinjiang with the Tibetan plateau. It can be useful in case of ‘disturbances’.
But there is more.
In 2010, I mentioned on this blog that DF-21C missiles were deployed in the same area. After The Times of India had ‘broken the news’ that Chinese missiles were deployed near the Indian border, Hans M. Kristensen of the FAS Strategic Security Blog had clarified: “The latest Pentagon report on Chinese military forces recently triggered sensational headlines in the Indian news media that China had deployed new nuclear missiles close to the Indian border. The news reports got it wrong, but new commercial satellite images reveal that launch units for the new DF-21C missile have deployed to central-western China.”
The area mentioned by the US report is not far from the new Hongyuan ‘civil’ airport.
In the meantime, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the authorities are actively planning to open a second airport for Lhasa.
On September 7, it was reported that the Lhasa Party’s Secretary Qizha La (or Choedrak in Tibetan) went for an inspection tour on the site of the new airport.
The Tibet Daily said that preliminary planning and design work were carried out. Choedrak asked the people to fully understand the practical significance of the construction of this new airport.
The Township of Lhasa attaches “great importance to further strengthening the organization by building a first-class international airport,” he said.
The objective of his visit was to accelerate the planning, design and other preparatory work for the project which should be implemented as soon as possible, according to the mouthpiece of the Party.

Choedrak, mayor of Lhasa on the site
Choedrak gave the usual speech: “the construction of the new airport in Lhasa will promote leapfrog development and long-term stability; it will strengthen national defense modernization; and will give full play to the role of Lhasa, the capital city [of Tibet]”.
It will also accelerate the overall well-being of the society: “All relevant departments should fully understand the important practical significance and far-reaching historical significance of the construction of a new airport in Lhasa; they should unify their thinking, attention, and effectively do all the pre-planning study for the new airport.”
On the long-term, the authorities want to "build a first-class international airport". For the purpose, “it is necessary to scientifically research, to keep high standards in the construction for this first-class airport in Tibet”, said Choedrak, a Tibetan cadre who added that builders should focus on all aspects of the construction of the new airport, i.e. water, electricity, road networks and other works in order to promote economic and social development.
Though Choedrak used the usual Communist jargon, the fact remains that Lhasa will have soon a second ‘first-class international’.
What does it mean for the Tibetan culture?
Probably something like the Reservations in the West of the United States!

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