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Development

India Wakes Up to China's Tibet Roadmap

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2004/12/21; December 21, 2004.]

Tuesday December 21 2004 00:00 IST

NEW DELHI: China's massive programme to build roads all along the border in Tibet and into the sub-continent has finally woken up India and Bhutan.

Over the last decade, China nearly doubled the length of its road transport network in Tibet to nearly 40,000 km. It has added more than 2,000 km of highways per year on an average in the last 10 years.

And, since the late beginning in the 1990s, China has invested nearly 10 trillion Yuan in Tibetan highway construction.

Not only is China expanding the internal connectivity of Tibet but also laying the foundations for its economic integration with the neighbouring regions of the sub-continent in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

As China transforms the geo-economics of the Himalayan region, India has begun to sit up and take notice.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran travelled to the eastern borders a couple of weeks ago and flew along the Tibetan frontier to get a sense, first hand, of the scale of Chinese transport infrastructure.

As India mulls the economic and security implications of the rapid modernisation of China's infrastructure along and across the border, Bhutan's predicament is acute.

Thimpu believes some of China's road building in Tibet violates the mutual agreement in 1998 to maintain peace and tranquillity on their disputed borders.

Following a formal protest conveyed to Beijing last month by Thimpu, China has agreed to suspend some of the construction work pending talks between the two sides in the spring of next year.

Nearly 50 years ago, when India discovered China's road building in the contested border areas, the relations between the two nations sank inevitably towards a war in 1962.

Sino-Indian relations have never been as good as they are today. China's road building is unlikely to lead to a military confrontation between the two countries. But the current expansion of Chinese infrastructure in Tibet confronts India with a different set of challenges.

For one, it has brutally exposes the poor state of transportation networks on the sub-continental side, the southern slopes of Himalayas. The message from China is clear: on the frontiers, infrastructure is power in its broadest sense.

Even more significant from New Delhi's point of view are the Chinese plans for developing cross-border transport infrastructure.

In Nepal, for example, China has plans for six additional highways to link up with Nepal, besides the present one that runs through Kodari on Sino-Nepalese border.

Chinese plans are not limited to highways but include the development of cross-border energy pipelines and optical fibre links in Nepal.

China's strategy on the Bhutanese border is similar, but has run into unresolved problems over the disputed frontier. As Beijing expands, in a determined manner, economic development from its eastern coast to the interior, its economic, political and cultural influence will inevitably seep down the Himalayas.

The awful state of infrastructure on the border is a result, believe it or not, of a deliberate policy in New Delhi over the last many decades, not to develop connectivity along the frontiers.

India cannot stop China from developing its own territory across the border. What it must do is to give up the irrational idea that border infrastructure is detrimental to national security. What New Delhi needs is a gigantic plan to develop, on a war footing, its own connectivity along and across the long frontier with Tibet and close the "infrastructure gap" with Beijing.

Such a strategy would position India to take advantage of the spread of China's economic growth into Tibet, Xinjiang and Yunnan. It could also accelerate the development of India's border regions- Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and the North East.


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