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China Railway in Tibet May Impact India's Economic, Military Security

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/09/02; September 2, 2001.]

by Elizabeth Roche

NEW DELHI, Aug 31 (AFP) - China's controversial plan to build a railway through Tibet could impact on India's military and economic security, the exiled Tibetan government warned Friday.

"Connecting Tibet and mainland China by railways will cut down costs on troop movements and make transport of supplies easier," K.C. Tethong, Tibetan minister for information told a press conference in New Delhi.

In June China officially began construction of the controversial 1,118-kilometre (650-mile) railway, the first to link China with Tibet, which can currently only be accessed by air or via tortuous roads.

It will stretch from the Tibetan capital Lhasa to Golmud in western China and will be the world's highest railway.

China sees Tibet as part of its territory and views the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, as a separatist leader.

The Tibetan government-in-exile is based in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

New Delhi has not publicly commented on the railway project, which China has been planning since the 1950s, but Tethong said the project "concerns India too".

A Tibetan government report entitled "China's railway project: Where will it take Tibet" warns the Golmud-Lhasa railway will bring an "even more serious military threat" to the region and "ultimately escalate the arms race on the Asian continent".

"Today China's military arsenal on the plateau (of Tibet) is believed to include 17 top radar stations, eight missile bases with at least eight intercontinental ballistic missiles, 70-medium range and 20 intermediate range missiles and 25 airfields and airstrips," the report said.

The completion of the railway could also result in cheap Chinese goods flooding Indian markets, Tethong added.

"Rail links mean easier transportation and this will mean a conducive situation for Chinese-made goods to enter Nepal and India," the Tibetan minister said.

Tethong said Canadian and US companies were helping the Chinese government with expertise and technology to build the railway.

The recent discovery of about 42 billion tonnes of oil reserves and around 1,500 cubic metres of natural gas in Tibet had spurred Beijing to build the railway to ensure easier transportation to energy-deficient eastern China, Tethong said.

International companies, including BP Amoco, have teamed up with Petro-China to exploit these vast hydrocarbon resources, Tethong said. But he rubbished the argument put forward by Beijing that the project would lead to development in Tibet. "His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile are not opposed to any form of development in Tibet ... we would like to see it happen for the benefit of Tibetans," he said.

"This is a purely political decision to subjugate Tibet and bring it under the rule of the People's Republic of China.

"The construction activity will result in a massive influx of Chinese into Tibet and that is our main concern."

The railway will also harm the fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau, damaging wildlife and contaminating the Yangtse, the Salween and Mekong rivers, besides the destroying the natural habitats of many endemic species, the report said.

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