Monday, October 2, 2017

New infrastructure developments in Tibet

Lhasa-Lhoka Express Highway
Yesterday the Lhasa-Nyingchi (or Nyingtri in Tibetan) High Grade Highway was opened for trial operations.
Quoting from the TAR’s transportation department, Kangba TV reported: “except Songduo Tunnel and Milashan Tunnel, Lhasa-Nyingchi High Grade Highway has been well prepared and begins trial operation from October 1.”
The four-lane Lhasa-Nyingchi High Grade Highway is 398 km long; it is designed for a 80 km/h speeed.
According to the Chinese media: “The operation of Lhasa-Nyingchi High Grade Highway shortens the travel time between Lhasa and Nyingchi from 10 hours to four hours, which can greatly improve the traffic condition of the golden tour line as well as boost local economy development.”
The train on the same route should follow in a couple of years.

The Rongme Ngatra tunnel
Another project, termed as the world's highest highway tunnel, was also recently opened to traffic.
The China Daily wrote: “The Que'ershan Tunnel, stretching 12.997 kilometers on National Highway No.317, in Ganzi, Sichuan province, opens to traffic on September 26, 2017. It is said to be the world's highest tunnel on a highway. The tunnel, whose highest point is 4,378 meters above sea level, was completed 15 years after the launch of the project.”
Que'ershan  is the Chinese name for the Rongme Ngatra is the highest peak of the Chola Mountains in the Kham region (today’s Sichuan).
According to the press release: “With the opening of the tunnel, it takes only 10 minutes to pass through the perilous and steep Que'ershan Mountain that stands 6,168 meters above the sea level. The project is projected to become a new impetus to help drive the economic and social development of the remote Tibetan region.”
The project is part of a highway (NH 317) between Nagchu and Chengdu.
Chengdu, Sichuan via Garzi (756 km), Dege (960), Jomda (1070), Chamdo (1298), Riwoche (1403) Dengchen (1546) Bachen (1782), Sog (1812) and Nagchu (2043).

The Tibet-Nepal Road
On August 29, 2017, the Kyirong-Nepal border post was reopened for foreign travelers.
The Middle East North Africa Financial Network reports: “It not only saves the expensive flight cost but also offers a superb overland landscape along the driving trip.”
Located in the Kyirong County, Shigatse, Kyirong border post is a vital landport between Tibet and Nepal.
Kyirong border is located 85 km away from Nepal's capital Kathmandu; from China-Nepal highway section, Kyirong docking distance is only about 30 km.
Interesting, the article mention that it is the terminus of the National Highway 216 (Xinjiang-Tibet Highway second line). I mentioned earlier about this extremely important development ('A new road between Tibet and Xinjiang').

The website gives the historic background of Kyirong border post:
  1. In 789 AD, according to legend, when Nepal's Princess Bhrukuti married the Tibetan King Songtsan, she followed the trekking route to Tibet via Kyirong Border. Kyirong border was the main channel of the political and cultural communication between China and Nepal, but also the traditional border trade market. Tibetan people main export sheep to Nepal.
  2. In 1972, China's State Council has approved Kyirong Border become a national second-class land port and set up the departments such as customs and commodity inspection department. But trade market and the departments in Kyirong Border were closed later because of the prosperity of Zhangmu port.
  3. In 1987, China's State Council has approved Kyirong Border for the national first-class land port. Except for barter transactions, Nepalese currency, and RMB is also as a means of payment.
  4. In 2014, China government decided to expand the opening in Kyirong Border.
  5. However, in 2015, the road to the Kyirong border has been severely damaged by the heavy earthquake in Nepal. Therefore, the Kyirong border was closed for foreign travelers. Besides, in June 2016, heavy monsoon rains along the Kyirong border caused severe damage to the roads.
  6. On August 29, 2017, Kyirong border in Tibet was reopened for foreign travelers.
In April 2017, I posted this article, also on the infrastructure

Bridge over the Tsangpo
Last week, Xinhua announced the construction of a new 'scientific' observation station in Metok, north of Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh: “The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) will build a new observation station in Tibet, to assist research and monitoring of the ecological system in the southeast of the Autonomous Region,” said an official release.
The station is located in Deshing village of Metok County, north of the McMahon Line.
It will cover 2,600 square meters and will be completed by October 2017.
Zhu Liping, a researcher with Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Research Institute (under the CAS) explained: “Rich in bio-diversity, Metok plays a special role in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau ecosystem."
It is also one of the most strategic places on the plateau.
Officially, it will be not only used for observing vegetation, glaciers, lakes and atmosphere, but also researching and monitoring bio-diversity and its impacts on climate change.
It is too close to India to believe that it will only observe wild animals and glaciers; specially when one knows that this area, the lowest part of the plateau, has very few glaciers.
The CAS also affirmed that the station is the latest of a series of observatories located in places such the Namtso lake, north of Lhasa and Mount Chomolangma (Everest).
The observatory may be watching birds, but let us not forget that any infrastructure development on the plateau has a dual use (civil and military).
It will certainly take a look at the 'birds' in Tuting Circle of Upper Siang too.

A Bridge over the Yarlung Tsangpo
Around the same time, Kangba TV announced the construction of a bridge at Mingze, (Mingtse?), near Tsetang on the way between Lhasa and Nyingtri (Nyingchi).
On March 25, the first bridge over Yarlung Tsangpo River on the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway line was completed.
A press release said that: “as the first completed bridge among the 16 ones over Yarlung Tsangbo River, it has accumulated valuable experience for bridge construction on high altitude areas.”
It is crucial portion of the 435 km Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway which is estimated to be finished in 7 years (as it started in November 2015, the line should be completed in 2022).
The train will run at a speed of 160km/h; in 2022, it will take less than 3 hours to travel (or bring troops) from Lhasa to Nyingchi.
The 3,376 m Mingze Bridge is one of key projects of Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway. It has 105 pier bodies, out of which 44 are on the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Lhasa-Lhoka (Shannan) Express Highway
Apart from the railway line, China is building a Lhasa-Lhoka (Shannan) Express Line (Highway), also part of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Highway.
On March 6, 2017, China Tibet News published some pictures of workers on the Lhasa-Lhoka Express Line driving an engineering vehicle. The news agency commented: “At present, the Lhasa-Shannan (Lhoka) Express Line project goes well. This project started on August 26, 2016. The whole line is 47.46 kilometers with bidirectional four roadways. [It is] designed speed is 80 kilometers per hour. The project can not only bring the benefits of development to both Lhasa and Shannan [Lhoka], but also has a positive significance to improving people’s livelihood and driving the accelerated development of the whole region’s economy industry chain.”
The highway will run in parallel to the train.
Both will have dual use.

New terminal opens at Nyingchi airport
But that is not all.
Xinhua announced the second-largest airport terminal in Tibet has started its operations in Nyingchi: “The new terminal, the sixth to open in Tibet, is located at Nyingchi Mainling Airport. It covers an area of 10,300 square meters and will be able to handle 750,000 passengers and 3,000 tons of cargo throughput annually by 2020.”
It is said that it will allow the airport to open new air routes, for example to Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. This will allow to greatly increase the traffic on the existing routes to Lhasa, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chongqing and Shenzhen.
Nyingchi is located at an average elevation of 2,950 meters above sea level.
Xinhua says: “The city has attracted more visitors in recent years thanks to tourist attractions such as its peach blossom festival.”
More than three millions according to Chinese statistics.
Incidentally, the Bayi Township owned by the People’s Liberation Army and located nearly is also served by the same airport.
The Indian border will be provided a good access to the PLA …in case.

The Lhasa-Nepal Railway
The other railway line from Lhasa/Shigatse to Kyirong on the Nepal border has been delayed by the 2015 earthquake whose epicenter was near Kyirong.
The area is fast recovering and according to Xinhua the total volume of trade at the border port of Kyirong hit 3.4 billion yuan (490 million U.S. dollars) in 2016, a 4.5-fold increase year over a year.
The magnitude 8.1 earthquake on April 25, 2015 had forced the closing of Zham and Kyirong ports. In October 2015, Kyirong was reopened for trade.
Slowly, Kyirong should take over Zham’s trade function, which used to clear about 90 percent of land-borne trade between China and Nepal before the earthquake, says the official Chinese news agency.
Yin Weifeng, deputy director of the Lhasa customs indicated: “Gyirong port is expected to become a major route for trade between China and Nepal.”
Nepal seems very keen on this.

Wu Yingjie and Nepal's Prime Minister
Nepal Prime Minister visits Tibet
On March 28, Wu Yingjie, Tibet’s Party Secretary met with visiting Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda. The chairman of the Standing Committee of the Autonomous Region People's Congress, Lobsang Gyaltsen and Che Dralha, the head of the Tibetan government were in attendance.
Wu Yingjie extended a warm welcome to Tibet to Prachanda: “The Nepalese government has always firmly adhered to the One-China policy and does not allow foreign forces to use Nepal's territory to engage in anti-China activities,” affirmed Wu.
Wu Yingjie pointed out that throughout the history, Chinese and Nepalese have been like 'lips and teeth’, like brothers.
Prachanda Prime Minister was on his way back from the annual Boao Forum for Asia; he had later stopped over in Beijing to meet President Xi Jinping and Vice Premiers Zhang Gaoli and Wang Yang. “The visit has achieved fruitful results”, according to Xinhua.
During his encounter with Wu, Prachanda said that Nepal highly appreciates the Chinese philosophy of fraternity, honesty, gratitude, and tolerance, and Nepal would continue to firmly adhere to the One-China policy and would not allow any forces (read Tibetan refugees) to engage in any anti-China activities in Nepalese territory.
On March 29, Prachanda returned to Nepal after spending some hours visiting the Tibetan capital.

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