Tuesday, August 4, 2015

China is on an Airports and Infrastructure spree in Tibet

My article China is on an Airports and Infrastructure spree in Tibet appeared in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

Isn’t it strange that some of the most significant news are often missed in the cacophony of the ‘Breaking News’ channels?
On the same day, two game-changing pieces of information appeared in the Chinese media. Yet, they just looked innocuous.
The first one was about the 6th Tibet Work Forum. Was it held in Beijing or in the sea-resort of Beidaihe, where the top leaders escaped the unpleasant Beijing weather? I shall come back to it later.
The second information was the PLA/Civil integration for the management of the Lhasa airport; it has serious strategic implications for India, which is struggling to build some infrastructure in Arunachal and Ladakh.
Xinhua officially announced the vital airport integration to "strengthen aviation safety and combat support capabilities."
A joint statement from the People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC) said that the integration will include joint maintenance of airport support facilities, joint flight safety support and joint airport management.
Interestingly, the Lhasa Gongkar Airport in Tibet will be the first of the two pilot airports to implement the PLA/civil 'integration' (with the Sunan Shuofang Airport in Wuxi in Jiangsu province). The job should be completed during the second half of 2015.
The PLAAF/CAAC circular further affirms that "all the civil-military airports will conduct strengthened integration next year."
To flood the Tibetan plateau with millions of Chinese tourists, a good infrastructure is required. Airports and the railway line are the backbones of a booming tourism in Tibet. The same infrastructure could be crucial in case of conflict with India; integration of the airport management was therefore required.
Once the Lhasa Gonggar Airport, located about 62 kilometres from the Tibetan capital has its joint PLA/Civil management, the other airports on the plateau will follow.
A couple of years ago, Xinhua had announced that the airport in Chamdo (known as the Bangda Airport) was reopened after major repairs. Xinhua reported then: "The Bangda Airport, the world's highest-altitude civilian airport currently in use, is expected to resume operations." It had temporarily been closed to repair a 19-year-old runway.
Also strategically important is the Nyingtri Mainling Airport, situated just north of the McMahon Line, the border with India; it serves Bayi, the main PLA garrison in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Ngari Gunsa Airport already used by the PLA posted opposite the Indian troops in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, started its operations in 2010, becoming the fourth civil airport in Tibet after Lhasa, Nyingchi and Chamdo airports.
Shigatse, the second city in Tibet is served by the railway line since August last year but also has the Shigatse Peace Airport, called Shigatse Air Base.
It was solely for military use until 2010, when a 100 million US $ expansion was completed.
The 4,411-metre-high Kardze Daocheng Yading airport, built in Kardze in Sichuan province was put into operation in 2014 (a year earlier than planned!). The Sichuan authorities planned to bring one million tourists to the area by 2015. But as important as tourism, the airport facilitates the transportation of fresh troops from the Military Area Command in Chengdu to Kardze prefecture. Kardze has been one of the most restive areas on the Tibetan plateau. With one stone, two birds are killed: the Tibetan protesters can be 'pacified' in no time and the deluge of Chinese tourists brings hefty revenues.
Another airport has come up in the Nagchu Prefecture of Tibet. Completed in 2014, the Nagchu Airport is now the highest airport in the world at 4,436 m.
The Modi Sarkar is aware of all this, but while China speedily builts Tibet’s infrastructure (using the perfect excuse of having to cater for millions of Han tourists), India develops its border areas at snail’s pace, struggling to create a semblance of infrastructure. It is true that the terrain is far more difficult in the Indian side, but so are the bureaucratic hurdles.
In Arunachal for example, the process indeed needs perseverance and an unshakable will to change the tide. Despite the declared resolve from the present Government, it may take years for proper roads to reach the remotest districts of Arunachal Pradesh…and stop the Chinese ‘visits’.
It is not an easy challenge, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has realised that the North-East cannot be developed from Delhi. In his latest monthly radio programme Maan ki Baat, he announced that he was “deputing Central Government officials to find solutions to problems being faced by the region”.
One of the decisions taken by the Union Government has been to modify the guidelines of the Border Area Development Programme drafted some 10 years ago. According to the new notification, “The main objective of the BADP is to meet the special developmental needs and well being of the people living in remote and inaccessible areas situated near the international border and to saturate the border areas with the entire essential infrastructure …(with a) participatory approach.”
I mentioned another information released by Xinhua the same day about the 6th Tibet Work Forum, which decides the fate of Tibet (as well as Tibet’s southern neighbours) for the next 5/10 years
The opening of the Forum just took place in Beidaihe, the sea-resort where the Communist leadership retires during the hot summer.
Xinhua reported that top Chinese leaders have met "to discuss economic and social development in Tibet, and how to ensure the autonomous region achieves prolonged stability."
The statement of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) further noted: "Safeguarding national unity and strengthening ethnic unity should be highlighted in work involving Tibet." The so-called stability is undoubtedly foremost in the mind of the leadership. The statement added: "Efforts should be made to unswervingly carry out the anti-separatism battle, promote the region's economic and social development, safeguard and improve people's welfare, and enhance exchanges and integration of different ethnic groups."
The Politburo (or probably an extended Politburo) is said to have agreed that "strengthening Tibetan infrastructure, helping it foster competitive industries while ensuring environmental protection are the means to achieve marked improvement in living conditions and more social cohesion," were the priorities for the restive region.
The PLA/Civil integration of the airports in Tibet will certainly help Beijing to 'strengthen the infrastructure' and consolidate its presence on the Plateau.
To give an example of the seriousness of the situation for India, it is enough to quote the case of Metok, the last Tibetan village before the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra enters Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
China Tibet Online explains: “The remoteness of the location, together with other reasons such as climate and geological condition, and economic development, led to the isolation of the region. Having no way linking it to the outside world until the end of 2013, Metok is the last county in China to have its road.”
Historically, this was a mythic place; only a very few intrepid pilgrims had visited the ‘hidden valley’. Now, Zhang Yuhui, an executive deputy director of Metok County affirmed that the income from tourism in Metok (which has 11,000 inhabitants only) has reached 1.6 billion US $, just in the matter of 2 years.
China Tibet Online
says: “Going to Metok had once been only the privilege of the ‘brave’ before the traffic was improved. After the opening of the road to Metok, self-driving travel became popular apart from hiking. Visitors from various places were attracted to this beautiful place.”
Can you believe that this tiny (though strategic valley) hosted 70,000 visitors in 2013, the first year the road was opened. It grew to 90,000 in 2014 and the Chinese government expects 130,000 visitors in 2015.
And this just a few kilometers north of the Indian border!
No other comment is required.
The Modi Sarkar has indeed to hurry up and undertake the development of the border on a war footing.

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