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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China plans air and rail network to boost border infrastructure

July 29, 2010

Ananth Krishnan
The Hindu (India)
July 28, 2010

Railway-lines, airports and digital surveillance networks

The Chinese government has kick-started a
large-scale effort to upgrade air and rail
infrastructure, as well as surveillance
capabilities, in its Tibet and Xinjiang regions.

In the coming months, the government will pour
billions of dollars into the two autonomous
regions with a dual focus of speeding up
development in restive areas and enhancing the
Army's mobilisational capacities to bring troops
to remote border regions from military commands in other parts of the country.

Once completed, the additional infrastructure,
which includes 8,000 km of railway lines and
seven new airports, will further widen the
asymmetry in border infrastructure between China and India.

China's National Committee on Border and Coastal
Defence (NCBD) in January 2010 pressed the
government to speed up infrastructure development
in border areas in Tibet and Xinjiang. Following
work conferences in May and July on development
in Tibet and Xinjiang, local governments in both
regions have begun allocating funds for the new projects.

The NCBD also told China's top leaders that the
People's Liberation Army (PLA) was close to
finishing work on its plan to build a "digital
great wall" along the borders in Tibet and
Xinjiang. The digital wall is a network of fibre
optics which will improve the PLA's command
control structure and communication.

Last year, with the setting up of a new sentry
post in Medog County of the Nyingri Prefecture in
the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the
infrastructure for the nationwide surveillance
system had been put in place. The meeting was
also told that the PLA was on its way to adding
7,000 km of fences, 3,000 border demarcations,
watchtowers, coastal defence installations and
25,000 km of maritime border patrol tunnels in other areas.

The new infrastructure includes an additional
8,000 km of railway lines and six new airports in
Xinjiang, which lies in China's far west,
bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The Ministry of Railways announced in June it
would spend $45.6 billion in the next 10 years to
add 8,000 km of railways in Xinjiang, covering 90
per cent of its counties. The government will
build six new airports in Xinjiang in the next
five-year plan (2011-2015), taking the number of
airports in the remote region to 22. The railway
network will serve the dual purpose of enhancing
troop mobility both to border areas and also
within Xinjiang, to increase response times to
any unrest. In July 2009, the region saw the
worst ethnic violence in China's recent history,
which claimed at least 197 lives and left 1,700 injured.

Reduced travel time

A new 1,776-km line will be built from Lanzhou,
the capital of Gansu province, to Xinjiang's
capital Urumqi. The $21-billion line will reduce
a 20-hour journey by half. The government has
also begun work on adding new lines to improve
connectivity between Urumqi and Beijing. The new
lines will reduce travelling time between the two
cities from 40 hours to just 12.

This month, the government has also opened a new
airport in Tibet, in the northwest Ngari
prefecture. The $249-million airport is Tibet's
fourth, after Lhasa, Bamda in Qamdo prefecture
and Nyingchi. A fifth airport, in Xigaze, will open in October.

Much of the PLA's focus in recent years has been
on increasing coordination and mobility between
the country's seven military regions, which was
found to be lacking both during the 2008 unrest
in Tibet and also in responding to the earthquake in Sichuan the same year.
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