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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

It's time to connect with Kunming

November 15, 2009

Saibal Dasgupta, TOI Crest
Times of India
November 14, 2009

It took me a moment to realise she was trying to
sing on old Bollywood hit, and that she was a
Muslim Hui and not one of the majority Han
Chinese . She loved Hindi movies and Shah Rukh Khan was her favourite.

Kunming, the capital of China's southwestern
province of Yunnan, expresses its diversity in a
lot of ways. You find crackers and sweets from
Vietnam, pickles from Thailand and household
goods from Myanmar in its shops, reminding you
that the famed Kunming Initiative is working right on the streets.

It also reminds you how little Indian government
and businesses know about China, reluctant to see
beyond Shanghai and Beijing. It also reminds one
how the political problem surrounding Arunachal
Pradesh has come in the way of Indian business
accessing the vast markets in South East Asia.

Kunming is just two hours from Kolkata by air.
Yunnan shares its border with Laos, Myanmar and
Vietnam. The 1,900-km-long Kunming-Bangkok
expressway is being readied to transport goods
and travellers through China, Laos and Thailand
besides linking them to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Indian businesses can hardly ignore the vast
potential that a link with Kunming offers.

But there are massive political mountains
blocking this business and travel potential.
India is against Chinese attempts to link Kunming
to India via a 1,500-km road passing through
Myanmar. It has refused to revive the old
Stillwell Road that connected Arunachal Pradesh
with Myanmar in the past. Obviously, India does
not want to give China direct access to - and
possible military advantage over - Arunachal.
Instead, it has begun to build an alternative road to Myanmar through Sikkim.

There is no doubt that India needs to be careful
about handing over the advantage, especially in a
situation where Beijing's influence over Myanmar
is growing by the day. At the same time, India
needs to find ways of taking advantage of the
vast business and cultural potential that Yunnan offers.

Yunnan has 25 different ethnic communities that
are as diverse in their culture as India's
North-East . Being next to Tibet and having a
vast Tibetan population has ensured the spread of
Tibetan Buddhism in the province. It is also a
place the Chinese government and the Communist
Party watches closely for signs of political
discord because a large section of the resident
Tibetans are known to secretly follow the Dalai
Lama. It is not unusual to find the Dalai Lama's
pictures hidden in corners of Tibetan homes in the province.
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