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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

China: India's strategic strangulation

September 30, 2010

"Their interest in infrastructure development now
extends to areas in Nepal and Pakistan-Occupied
Kashmir beyond their periphery. The Governments
of Nepal and Pakistan are not in a position to
find the necessary funds for infrastructure
development. Hence they look up to China for
financial and technical assistance in this regard."
by B.Raman
Sri Lanka Guardian
September 28, 2010

Chennai, Sep. 28 -- Like a homing pigeon, China
is pressing ahead with the implementation of its
plans for railway link-ups with Afghanistan,
Pakistan and Nepal. It is only a question of time
before Chinese railway planners and strategic
thinkers come out with a plan for a railway
link-up with Bangladesh via Myanmar. The
initiative for these link-ups came not from
China, but from these countries. Once their
interest in a railway link-up with China became
evident, Beijing pounced on the opportunity and
seriously took up a feasibility study and came up
with ideas regarding the implementation if the projects were found feasible.

It has projected these projects as dictated by
purely economic requirements and not by strategic
or geopolitical intentions. Though these
projects, when finally implemented, would have an
enormous military significance, the military
aspect is played down and their economic benefits
are highlighted. A study of the evolution of the
ideas for railway link-ups across India’s
periphery shows that while China does not seek to
create for itself a capability for the strategic
strangulation of India, it never misses an
opportunity to develop such a capability if it presents itself.

I have already written separately about the
feasibility studies that have been initiated
regarding railway link-ups with Pakistan and
Afghanistan. This article is about a possible
railway link-up between Tibet and Nepal. On
January 18, 2008, less than two years after China
commissioned the railway line to Lhasa, its
online Tibet news service (en.tibet.cn) quietly
announced that the Lhasa-Xigaze Section of the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway's extension line "is
expected to start construction this year." The
next day, the Government and party-controlled
Xinhua news agency quoted the then Chairman
Qiangba Puncog of the so-called Tibet Autonomous
Region as stating that it would be one of the
region’s ten key construction projects involving
an investment of 28 billion yuan ($3.7 billion).
The Xinhua further quoted him as saying as
follows: "Experts are still working on the
designs and environmental assessments of the
extension line and government officials have
started calculating compensations to those who
will lose their land and properties to the
railway." It added that the 254-km Lhasa-- Xigaze
will be the first feeder line for the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway and would cost 11 billion
yuan and be completed in 2010. As pointed out by
the "Tibetan Review" of January 23, 2008, Xigaze
is located 280 km southwest of Lhasa and borders Nepal, Bhutan and India.

Mr.Cheng Xia Ling, the Chinese Ambassador to
Nepal, said in an interview the same day: "The
China -Tibet railway link will not end in Lhasa,
as we have plans to expand it up to the Nepalese
border." He added that he was aware of the
difficulty of supplying oil to Nepal from China.
"It is not an easy task to supply petrol from
China as we need to cross thousands of kilometres
of distance and Tibet having border with Nepal is
at an altitude of 4,000 metres." In an interview
to Nepal Weekly, he said : "We are even planning
to link it to Kathmandu in not too distant
future." The China Daily said on January 23,
2008,that a Sichuan-Tibet Railway would be built
to create a network linking Sichuan's western
passageway with Tibet, Qinghai province and
Chinese-controlled Xinjiang. It said that it
would be part of China’s six new railway projects
costing 140 billion yuan ($19.3 billion) to be
included in the national railway network plan. An
agreement for this purpose was signed on January
10,2008,by Sichuan’s party secretary Mr. Liu
Qibao and Governor Jiang Jufeng with China’s Railway Minister, Mr. Liu Zhijun.

In the last week of April,2008, the Chinese told
the Nepalese authorities about their plans for
extending the railway line to Lhasa inaugurated
in 2006 up to Khasa a town on the Tibet-Nepal
border. Mr.Aditya Baral, Adviser on Foreign
Policy to then Nepalese Prime Minister Mr.Girija
Prasad Koirala, told the media as follows: "Prime
Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was told by a
visiting Chinese delegation during a meeting that
the Chinese Government has begun a railway
extension project on its side to link with the
Nepal-China border." According to Mr.Baral,the
Chinese Communist Party delegation told Nepalese
officials that the railway link would be ready in
five years time. The Nepal border town of Khasa
lies some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of
Kathmandu. "The railway network will be important
for increasing trade and tourism for both
countries," Mr.Baral added. The delegation
reportedly told Mr. Koirala that Beijing had
included the railway line extension in its ongoing eleventh five-year plan.

On August 17, 2008, a spokesman of the Chinese
railways confirmed plans to add six more rail
lines to the Qinghai-Tibet railway. Of these, one
will be from Lhasa to Nyingchi and one from Lhasa
to Xigaze, both in the so-called Tibet Autonomous
Region. Three lines will originate from Golmud in
the Qinghai province and connect Chengdu in the
Sichuan province, Dunhuang in the Gansu province,
and Kuerle in Chinese-controlled Xinjiang. The
sixth will link Xining , capital of Qinghai, with
Zhangye in the Gansu province. He said that the
six lines were expected to be completed and commissioned before 2020.

Subsequent reports indicated that under the
Development Strategy for Western China, the
Chinese were planning to connect Lhasa to Zhangmu
vis Xigaze to the West and to Dali via Nyingchi
to the East and that they were planning further
to link Xigaze with Yadong near the Sino-Indian
border . Inaugurating a Chinese cultural festival
at Kathmandu on October 10,2009, then Prime
Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal requested China to
extend the Beijing-Lhasa railway line to
Kathmandu. He said: "The economic ties between
Nepal and China could be taken to a new height if
the railway line that has reached upto Lhasa from
mainland China could be extended upto Kathmandu,
and economic infrastructure could be developed on
the Himalayan transit points between Nepal and China."

In the wake of these reports has come a report
about the beginning of the construction on the
extension of the railway line beyond Lhasa
towards Tibet’s border with Nepal, India and
Bhutan. The “China Daily” of September 27,2010,
has reported as follows: "China on Sunday
(September 26) began construction on an extension
to the world's highest rail link, the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The construction will
connect the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to Xigaze,
Tibet's second largest city. The extension, in
the southwestern part of the autonomous region,
will create a 253-km railway line. The work will
take four years, with a budget of 13.3 billion
yuan ($1.98 billion), Zhang Ping, head of the
National Reform and Development Commission, said at Lhasa.

It further reported: "The extension from Lhasa to
Xigaze is the first extension of the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which opened in July 2006.
The new section will pass through five counties
and over the 90-km long Yarlung Zangbo Grand
Canyon, to reach Xigaze, a city with a history of
more than 600 years and the traditional seat of
the Panchen Lamas. "It will play a vital role in
boosting tourism in the southwestern part of
Tibet and promoting the rational use of resources
along the line," Liu Zhijun, Minister of
Railways, said at a conference. The extended rail
line will be a single line with a speed of 120 km
per hour. Nearly half of the line, or 115 km,
will be laid in tunnels or on bridges. "Laying
rail tracks in tunnels in the mountains can avoid
passing through the fragile natural reserves in
Tibet," Wang Mengshu, a railway tunnel expert and
member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told China Daily

It added: "A news release from the Ministry of
Railways said that the extension line avoids four
natural reserves in the area. In addition, using
tunnels can help reduce damage to the railway by
earthquakes, since Tibet is prone to earthquakes,
Wang said. "But the tunnels will add to the
difficulty of construction, as it will be
impossible to lay the tracks as fast as in the
previous construction of the Qinghai-Tibet
Railway, which was built on top of permafrost,"
he said. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the world's
highest railway. Some 960 km of its tracks are
located 4,000 meters above sea level. About 550
km of the tracks run on frozen earth, the longest
of any of the world's plateau railways. The
Qinghai-Tibet Railway's first section from
Xining, capital of Qinghai province, to Golmud of
Qinghai was completed and opened to traffic in
1984. Its second section from Golmud to Lhasa
started construction in 2001 and opened to traffic in 2006.

It added further: "A spokesman with the Ministry
of Railways said that the future railway network
in Tibet will have a "Y" shape, with two
extensions planned. In addition to the extension
from Lhasa to Xigaze, the other is from Lhasa to
Nyingchi in the southeastern part of Tibet.
Previous media reports said construction will
begin in 2013 at the earliest. Xigaze city is the
administrative center of the Tibetan prefecture
of the same name, a 182,000-sq-km area that
neighbors India, Nepal and Bhutan. It is also
famous for Qomolangma (known as Mount Everest in
the West), which rises up from it."

Former Nepalese Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Khadga Prasad
Oli, had indicated that the Government of Nepal
would undertake a feasibility study on a possible
railway link from Xigaze to Panchkhal of Kavre or
Trishuli of Rasuwa. He said that the Government
was thinking of developing Panchkhal or Trishuli
as a special economic zone and added, "I am
optimistic that the railway line will link Nepal via Kerung."

Only when the new line reaches Xigaze are the
Chinese expected to take up the question of its
further extension to Nepal’s border and possibly
from there to Kathmandu. This could materialize only by about 2020.

The extended railway line from Lhasa and its
projected further extension into Nepal would have the following implications:

* Stengthen the Chinese capability for continued suppression of the Tibetans.

* Strengthen the military-related infrastructure
in the region which would enable rapid movement
of troops in the event of a military confrontation with India.

* Give the Chinese a third military pressure
point against India in addition to the direct
pressure point across the Sino-Indian border and
a second pressure point across Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

* Strengthen China’s economic links with Nepal at
the expense of its links with India.

The Chinese concept of comprehensive national
security regards infrastructure as an important
component of national security. Hence, the
Chinese emphasis on the development of road, rail
and air infrastructure. The Chinese are worried
about the security of their peripheral
areas---particularly Tibet and Xinjiang---- ever
since the fresh Tibetan revolt in 2008 and the
revolt in Chinese-controlled Xinjiang last year.
Infrastructure development in the peripheral
areas has been receiving high priority.

Their interest in infrastructure development now
extends to areas in Nepal and Pakistan-Occupied
Kashmir beyond their periphery. The Governments
of Nepal and Pakistan are not in a position to
find the necessary funds for infrastructure
development. Hence they look up to China for
financial and technical assistance in this
regard. The Chinese are taking full advantage of
this to get actively involved in infrastructure
development in POK and Nepali areas bordering India.

While the question of India competing with China
in the POK does not arise, India could have
competed with China in Nepal provided it had the
necessary funds and technical capability. India
is already involved in road development in
certain areas of Nepal, but there is considerable
fascination not only in Nepal, but also in
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for the Chinese
engineering skills for the development of
infrastructure. This fascination has increased
further after the Chinese construction of the railway line to Lhasa.

Even in the past, the reputation of Indian
engineers in this region was not as high as that
of their Chinese counterparts. Now, these
countries are seeing that India itself has been
importing an increasing number of Chinese
engineers for infrastructure development. How can
we object to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
seeking the assistance of Chinese engineers when we are ourselves doing so.

India is finding itself in a position where its
infrastructure development has not been able to
keep pace with that of the Chinese and its
ability to compete with China in neighbouring
countries has been diminishing. How are we going
to get out of this situation? The crash
development of our own infrastructure and making
it of a quality which would impress the countries
of this region should receive immediate priority.
An outcome of our fascination with the
information technology sector has been a decline
in the number and the quality of the construction
engineers produced by us. Unless this is
reversed, China will continue to score over us in the field of infrastructure.

* The writer is Additional Secretary (retd),
Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently,
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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