|Nyingtri Airport close to the McMahon Line|
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Having undertaken a huge amount of infrastructure work along the border with India, China has no business to object to similar activity by New Delhi on the pretext it will complicate matters. Modi regime must remain firm
The Chinese are amazing. During his monthly press conference, Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun questioned India’s plan to build 54 border posts on its Arunachal frontier. He said: “We have taken notice of the reports. China and India have disputes over the eastern part of their border. We hope India will try to help maintain stability and peace, instead of taking moves that may further complicate the situation.”
Beijing is also unhappy about India’s plans to build a road on the southern side of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei had earlier grumbled: “The boundary issue between China and India is left by the colonial past. Before a final settlement is reached, we hope that India will not take any actions that may further complicate the situation.” But who is complicating the situation? As the Chinese spokesmen whined, Beijing announced its plans to invest 278 million yuan ($45 million) for expanding the Mainling (Nyingtri) airport, just north of the McMahon line.
China Tibet Online says: “The abundant tourism resources and many famous scenic spots in the region attract more and more tourists to Nyingtri as their first stop for Tibet. In the first half year of 2014, Nyingtri totally received 836,200 tourists from home and aboard.” The project has a vital military angle as Bayi, the main Chinese garrison in Southern Tibet, is located close by.
That is not all.Xinhua announced that China has approved plans to build a 402km railway line linking Shigatse to Nyingtri, north of Arunachal Pradesh. The news agency provided details about the strategic new line along the Arunachal border. The Tibet project will cost 36.6 billion yuan (six billion dollars) and take seven years to complete. The state-owned China Railway Corporation will be the builder and operator. The line is designed for a speed of 160km per hour for passenger trains. The cargo capacity will be 10 million tonnes per year. Wang Daiyuan of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences asserted that after completion, “the Sichuan-Tibet railway will form a ring with the Qinghai-Tibet railway, which will bring more economic benefit.” A ring around India’s frontiers?
Though the Chinese authorities only emphasise the development of tourism, the new railway line will be part of a strategic network linking Lhasa to the borders of India and Nepal. It will connect Lhasa and Shigatse with Kyirong (Nepal border), Yatung (Sikkim border) and Nyalam (near Dram, the landport with Nepal).
The next stage will probably be a railway line through the Aksai Chin linking Tibet (Lhasa) to Xinjiang (Kashgar and Urumchi). Though it has not been announced as yet, it is bound to happen soon. Will all this not complicate the border issue? China, which has already built an extremely good network of roads close to the Line of Actual Control on the Tibetan plateau, objects to India struggling on her side of the border, where the terrain is extremely difficult.
That is not to say that everything is rosy in the Middle Kingdom; Beijing has its own problems. On November 3, The Global Times quoted the Chinese President speaking at a military ‘political work’ conference. “The Communist Party of China has absolute control over the military, and called for serious reflection on the violations of discipline and law committed by former General Xu Caihou. The party commands the gun,” Mr Xi Jinping said. Xinhua reported that Mr Xi stressed the “the principle of the party leading the Army, which should always be firmly upheld.” Is there any doubt in the ranks?
The President, who is also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, asserted that ideological and political development are the keys to safeguarding the CPC’s absolute command of the troops. Is the party afraid to lose control? The PLA Daily had prepared the groundwork for Mr Xi’s intervention by publishing a series of articles highlighting the importance of party-control over the military, while refuting Western arguments about ‘the nationalisation of a country’s military forces’ (in other words, a military which could take its orders from the Government and not the party).
During the conference, Mr Xi readily admitted that “there were serious problems in the Army’s ideological and political development.” He cited a few of the issues faced by the Army: Loss of faith in the party, in party principles not followed, revolutionary spirit missing, lack of discipline, improper ideology and work styles, lax management of officials or flaws in the military's supervision system. This list is quite disturbing for the Chinese leadership. The President spoke at length about General Xu Caihou, the former CMC Vice Chairman who has been expelled from the party and is being investigated for taking huge bribes and offering ‘promotions’ to senior Generals (many of them probably present at the Conference).
A few days earlier, Lt Gen Yang Jinshan, a Deputy Commander of the Chengdu Military Region (and former Commander of the Tibet Military District) lost his membership of the CCP’s Central Committee. It is a first in the history of the party that a senior serving General loses his job and his seat in the Central Committee.
Lt Gen Yang was one of 41 members of the PLA in the Central Committee, and as such was ‘senior’ in the party to his direct boss, Lt Gen Li Zuocheng, the Commander of Chengdu MR. Apparently, the arrest of General Yang is part of the wider inquiry into Xu Caihou. In the meantime, the CMC warned that ideological struggles within the PLA were “acute and complicated”, and appealed to the military to remain loyal to the party’s leadership.
The Global Times asserted: “Military reform has entered ‘uncharted waters’ with concerns growing that reform could be impeded by structural problems.” The CMC admitted that among the problems facing the Army, “the struggle over ideology has been exceptionally acute and complicated”. A CMC communiqué says that “different ideologies and new ideas that have emerged in Chinese society have penetrated the military, and will have a disruptive impact.”
There is no doubt that India has been too shy. While New Delhi continues to insist on an Inner Line Permit (for Indian nationals) and a Protected Area Permit (for foreigners) visiting Arunachal, Beijing brings lakhs of tourists to its side of the line. It is certainly time for New Delhi to open up. Not only should it go ahead with the roads to the LAC, but the Government must allow tourists to visit these remote and stunningly beautiful areas of the Indian territory. In India, the grace remains that the democratic system protects the nation against more disruptive ‘ideological struggles’.