Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tourism Development on the Plateau ... and in Arunachal

Chinese trekkers near Metok
As mentioned in one of my last posts, when he joined a panel discussion with the delegates from Qinghai province, President Xi pledged to protect the fragile ecology of Tibet. This is great news …if implemented!
Xi said: “The ecological environment has irreplaceable value. We should treat it as our lifeline and protect it like the apple of our eye."
He exhorted the delegates to treat environment 'as our lifeline'.
Let us see if the President's words will be followed by acts.
A day later, Xinhua reported that Beijing had ‘poured’ some 3.44 billion U.S. dollars into water conservancy infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) during the past five years.
According to ‘local authorities’ of the Water Resources Department, this has benefited about 1.8 million farmers and nomads; it has stabilized grain output, and also ensured safe drinking water and power supply in remote areas.
The ‘local’ statistics are often difficult to check in China.
It was also announced that from 2011 to 2015, the TAR saw its capacity of water supply increase by 700 million cubic meters and some 100,000 hectares of irrigation land had been ‘created or improved’.
Further, 773,000 ‘rural’ residents, students, teachers and monks were provided with clean drinking water while hydropower helped 270,000 people in accessing electricity.
Is it true or just propaganda? It is difficult to say.
Also during the proceedings of the National People’s Congress, officials from Yunnan announced that no new small-scale hydropower plants will be built on the Nu (Salween) River in order to restore the environment.
This is a clear admission that environment has been damaged in the past.
Li Jiheng, Yunnan’s party boss, even spoke of turning the river into ‘China’s Grand Canyon’.
Is it a change of policy? From dams to tourism?
Li told China National Radio: “The Nu River will become a world-level tourism destination in five to 10 years. It will succeed and even surpass the Grand Canyon in the United States.”
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) was more cautious in its approach, “the fate of the country’s last free-flowing river is still unclear as the officials remained tight-lipped on whether they would go ahead with plans to build a series of dams on the upper reaches of the Nu”.
It however confirmed that the Yunnan government will stop exploiting ‘small mines’ and building ‘small hydropower projects’ to help restore vegetation on river banks.
What about larger dams?
For years, environmentalists had pleaded for scrapping plans to construct large dams the river.
Wang Yongchen, an environmentalist, who believes in keeping the natural state of the Nu river, told the SCMP:  “Their comments are rather vague and tricky. No one would confirm plans for large dams. They say it’s up to the central leaders if large dams will be built.”
The plans to dam the upper reaches of the Nu had been shelved in 2005 by Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier who had expressed concerns for the environment …and the safety of the dams.
Plans were however revived in 2013.
In 2013, the State Council surprised the environmentalists and scientists by mentioning new plans to construct 13 dams on Nu River.
The SCMP says: “Since then, local officials have admitted preparatory work – such as building roads around the planned sites – has started. But no real progress had been made on dam construction so far.”
Scientists have discovered that some 40 per cent of aquatic species have already disappeared from the Nu River, mainly due to human activities such as overfishing, mining and dam construction.

Closer to India
In an earlier post, I mentioned the development on the Yarlung Tsangpo/Siang/Brahmaputra river.
The development in Nyingchi/Nyingtri prefecture, north of the Indian border in Arunachal has critical implications for India.
Nyingchi plans to have an international ecotourism zone during the ‘13th Five-Year Plan’ (2016-2020) in order to receive six million tourists by 2020 …and get a hefty 1.2 $ billion revenue from the Chinese tourists.
According China Tibet Online, Nyingchi will build 10 national-level rural tourism demo villages in the next five years, with more than 20,000 people involved in the tourism industry, adding 70,000 jobs with an average of per capita income increase of 10,000 yuan.
The Chinese figures demonstrate that tourism has become the major force in developing the economy and infrastructure of the area; it is also ‘crucial’ to improve the Tibetan income, says the Plan.
The Chinese website, affiliated to Xinhua, says that in 2015 for the first time, Nyingchi GDP has crossed 10 billion yuan to reach 10.4 billion yuan (1.67 US $ billion), with a growth rate of 11.2%; it is the highest among cities on the plateau.
Some 25% of the prefecture’s revenue comes from tourism: “there were 3.2 million tourists in Nyingchi in 2015, a 20% increase from 2014. Over 5,000 local residents work in tourism, running 219 family inns. Per capita income in the pasturing area surpassed 10,000 yuan for the first time to reach 10,800 yuan, which is 1,600 yuan (258 $) more than the Tibet average,” says the local officials.

Is India sleeping?
On the southern side of the plateau, India seems to be sleeping, busy with mega-cultural events or ‘tolerance’ in the Indian Universities.
While north of the McMahon Line, the number of tourists grows every year by 15% to 20% , the infrastructure south of the McMahon Line is going at snail pace.
Let us not forget that the infrastructure in Tibet can be used by the People’s Liberation Army at any point in time.
China Tibet Online asserts that “the local government began to focus on improving their ability to accommodate the tourists and make the environment sustainable, various measures were introduced, including ecological protection and improvement of the tourism industry to ensure honest practices.”
About improving the environment, this is to be seen.
Though India has just been able to ‘reopen’ two Advanced Landing Grounds in Ziro and Along in Arunachal Pradesh, thereby slightly improving the Indian Air Force's operational capability, still the two ALGs are located far-away from the border.
Air Marshal C. Hari Kumar, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command announced that "The ALGs will further enhance our existing operational capabilities in Eastern Air Command," adding that the new capacity build-up will enable operations by some of the force's new inductions including the C-130J Super Hercules.
This is good news.
The Air Marshal also asserted that “Besides enhancing air maintenance capability of the IAF in the region, the new airfield will also facilitate civil air connectivity soon.”
North of the McMahon Line
With a cumbersome and antiquated Inner Line Permit system, the area can probably forget the ‘civilian’ connectivity for a long time to come.
On the other side of the Line, during the 13th Five Year Plan, “Nyingchi will strengthen the transportation networks via air, rail, highways, and waterways, as well as the building of starred hotels, economy hotels, motels, theme hotels, family inns, and RV parks to diversify the type of accommodations.”
The China Tibet Online further reports: “Last year, fixed investment in Nyingchi reached 16.3 billion yuan. The Lhasa-Nyingchi highway was put in use by the end of 2015, while the Lhasa-Nyingchi railway is also under construction. Renovations of the Lhasa's airport are in full swing. There are now seven direct flights reaching Nyingchi, with possible new routes added from Xi’an, Shanghai, and Xiamen this year. In addition, Mainling Airport could become an international airport with more flights and routes in the future.”
Once again, India is left behind in terms of infrastructure development, though the Army has recently showed its capacity of build ‘environment-friendly’ pontoons on the Yamuna, construction is much slower on the banks of the Subansiri, Dibang or other rivers of Arunachal.
It is truly a national tragedy.

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