Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tibet: China moving the West ...and the South

In the recent months, rapid developments have taken place in Western Tibet.
This will be the object of several posts.

Banning Foreign Tourists 
As the 19th Congress approaches, China is nervous.
The Chinese authorities have banned foreigners to travel to Tibet from October 18 to 28.
During this period, the crucial Congress will be held in Beijing.
On September 22, Radio Free Asia (RFA) asserted: “The ban was announced by telephone about ten days ago”.
A Tibetan working in a travel agency in Xining (in Qinghai province) told the radio’s Tibetan Service: “During this period, it is not just foreigners but also Tibetans living in the Amdo region of Qinghai who are not allowed to travel in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).”
Agence France Presse confirmed: “During the sensitive, high-level talks, Tibet will close its borders to foreigners, while visitors traveling the country during that period will likewise be required to leave by October 17.”
Usually, foreign visitors and Tibetans living in the Chinese western provinces are not allowed to visit Tibet in March, at the time of the Two Meetings and the anniversary of the Tibetan uprising on March 10.

Demonstration of Force
Incidentally, on September 26, the TAR held the Ninth Regional Congress in Lhasa.
According to the Chinese media: "Police officers and civilians, armed police and soldiers and other involved in the keeping the stability of the region participated. There was a parade ‘to inspire the people’, during which the police vowed to keep a fearless fighting spirit and dare ‘to win the powerful momentum’".
The slogans were: “Loyal to the party, keep in mind the mission, fight terrorist violence, governance for stability, strong base solid, cohesion, advocate honor, dare to win.”
The participants pledged to the Party to maintain the security during the Congress. “Raise right fist, take collective oath.”

A New Highway in Shigatse
In the meantime, a new 40-km highway was opened which should shorten the journey from an hour to 30 minutes between Shigatse airport and the city centre.
According to The Global Times: “Experts believe the development will enable China to forge a route into South Asia in both economic and defence terms.”
It is not clear how 40-km of road could 'link' the plateau to South Asia; it looks more as a propaganda exercise to ‘scare’ India.
The Chinese tabloid says: “The road runs parallel with the Shigatse-Lhasa railway line linking the 5,476 kilometre G318 highway from Shanghai to Zhangmu on the Nepal border.”
Zhao Gancheng, a so-called expert and director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, who was one of the Chinese hardliners during the Doklam incident, told The Global Times: “It can link with the future cross-border Sino-Nepali railway. …The Sino-Nepali railway, which passes through the Chinese border town of Zhangmu and connects with routes in Nepal, will be the first railway by which China enters South Asia.”
Zhao has it probably wrong: the only railway ever mentioned is crossing to Nepal near the landport of Kyirong.
The new railway is apparently part a deal signed when Nepal Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara visited China in early September.
The People’s Daily wrote: “The railway includes two lines: one connecting three of Nepal’s most important cities and two crossing the border.”

A New Road?
RFA also mentioned the project of a new road affirming that Chinese soldiers and civilians who are building a road linking Southern Tibet to Nepal, set up a banner at the border, inviting Nepalese citizens on the other side to help them extend the road farther into Nepal.
Apparently the troops arrived at Nepal’s border near Kyirong on September 1: “they distributed food and clothing to the Nepalese, promising to help them with the roadwork and other construction projects in Nepal if permission can be obtained from government authorities in Kathmandu.”
It is rather strange that Chinese soldiers have started pressurizing Nepali local villagers to get the permission to continue the railway to Kathmandu.
RFA’s source said: “The Chinese began building a road from the Tibetan side of the border up to the Nepalese side about two years ago, and they have now finally finished that work. …Now, a group of Chinese military and civilian officials have appeared at the border, raising a banner and the Chinese national flag to win the hearts and minds of the people on the border.”
The fact is the road was greatly delayed due to the earthquake epicentered in Kyirong.
The railway line will probably follow the same route as the highway.
I have often mentioned on this blog, the new road (as well as the railway) which will link Nepal and Tibet.
The PLA soldiers carried a banner urging ‘loyalty to the Chinese motherland’ and calling for ‘harmonious living’: “This is a new development, and the local Nepali residents are concerned and have mixed feelings about China’s distribution to them of free goods,” said RFA.
The entire episode is strange but it denotes the Chinese authorities’ will to develop Western Tibet (Ngari Khorsum for the Tibetans) on a grand scale and open up on Nepal. It could be the beginning of a flood of goods and people onto the erstwhile kingdom.

Thre railway lines in Nepal?
Last year The Kathmandu Post had reported that four Chinese companies had shown interest to conduct feasibility study for Kathmandu-Rasuwagadhi railway line.
Kathmandu had asked China to conduct a survey and a detailed project report (DPR).
The Nepali newspaper noted: “Once the proposed railway is constructed, it will establish direct railway connectivity with Chinese railway which is expected to arrive in Kyirong, a bordering town of China across Rasuwagadhi, within a few years.” It was said that Sinohydro, China Railway Fist Survey and Design Institute Group, China Engineering Oversees Group (COVEC) and China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC) applied for conducting the survey.
The Post added: “The Chinese proposals follow Nepal’s request to China to provide financial and technical support for the feasibility study and the preparation of the DPR of the proposed Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu and Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini Railway Project. The request was made during former prime minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China in March. During the visit, it was agreed that the relevant authorities of both sides would exchange ideas and proposals on constructing cross-border railways and rail network in Nepal, and support enterprises to start related preparatory work as soon as possible.”
This was during Oli’s times; it is clear that Beijing is putting pressure on the new government in Kathmandu to continue with the project.

Photo taken in 2012
The Strategic Importance of Shigatse
During the Doklam episode, Chris Biggers mentions in Bellingcat the strategic importance of Shigatse: “Commercial imagery acquired during July and August has shown up to eight PLAAF J-10 multi-role fighters parked on the apron [of Shigatse]. They likely arrived between March and April after at least five Shenyang J-11, a modified and locally produced variant of the Russian Su-27SK, departed the airfield.”
There is usually a rotation of the war planes between Shigatse ‘Peace’ and Lhasa Gongkar airports.
The article continues: “Similar to Gongkar, the fourth generation aircraft were also joined in late June by a rotation of MI-17 or MI-171 HIP, the latter an improved variant. At least two of the four HIP [NATO code name] had weapons racks or winglets attached suggesting they could perform combat or transport roles. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and the PLA Aviation Corp operate the platform.”
Further on August 6 says “we saw the first known deployment of a drone to the airbase. A single CH-4 medium altitude long endurance UAV, joined the HIP on the western parking apron. A primary satellite link was also located at a leveled support area north of the runway. The presence of the satellite link suggests the UAV is piloted from the airbase. This is the first drone deployment at a forward airbase observed since the Doka La crisis was triggered.”
The author concludes: “Bottom Line – Despite SAM [Surface-Air Missile] assets on alert throughout July, fighters deployed to Shigatse remained within baseline for the airbase. However, additional platforms deploying to this location should be watched closely as the PLA operationalizes its new theater commands and tensions remain with India.”

A crucial hub
There is no doubt that in the future the Shigatse airport will become a crucial hub.
This seen with the rapid development of the infrastructure (highway, railway line, ‘oil’ road) in Western Tibet, it is something that India should take into consideration.
I shall come back to this in forthcoming posts.

Photos of the Parade in Lhasa on September 26

No comments: