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China begins railway construction from Lhasa to disputed Indian border

January 26, 2015

Voice of America, January 22, 2015 - The plan was previously announced as part of China’s current Five Year Plan, but the main Chinese media officials did not announce the implementation of the project. On December 19, the China Railway Corporation informed a local Tibetan newspaper that the construction was started “recently.”

Tibet People’s Daily said the railway from Lhasa to Nyingtri would boost local economic and social development and that “it has important significance in the unification of nationalities.”.

China claims Arunachal Pradesh is part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Experts say this project is doomed to raise Indian security concerns.

A Professor of political science at Indiana University, Sumit Ganguly has concerns about the intentions of the new railway construction.

“While the Chinese claim as much as they want that this is being built purely for economic and commercial purposes, the trains don’t care about whether or not military personnel ride them or civilians ride them,” he says. “They very easily could be utilized to transport troops, particularly since Arunachal Pradesh, at least in the eyes of Chinese, is a disputed territory.”

According to China’s strategic railway map, the future railway lines will run through the entire south-western border areas of Tibet. Last August, the western most city of TAR, Shigatse, and was connected by the railway. The new construction will make Shigatse a hub for railway lines that will stretch to the borders of India, Nepal, and Bhutan and connect with Xijiang (via Mt. Kailash region).

The Co-chair of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi, Manoranjam Mohanty, says the military strategy of the new railway is an “obvious” one. He says India has also made plans to build more military bases in Arunachal and other border areas.

“Particularly in Arunachal, infrastructure building has been rather slow. It is going on at the Indian side, but it is rather slow,” he tells VOA Tibetan Service.

India and China fought over the territory in 1962, leading to a humiliating defeat for India. But Mohanty says India today is far stronger than in 1962. Both sides are wary of starting another war.

Professor Ganguly believes India’s infrastructure capability in the region is no match with China. India currently has no railway lines connected to the Arunachal Pradesh.

“India’s record of building roads – even in that area – is rather poor, and the border road organizations are run poorly,” Ganguly says.

Chinese officials predict engineering difficulties during the Lhasa-Nyingtri railway construction. The construction will proceed through the Brahmaputra valley, which is known for deep faults, active tectonic plates, and “7.5 earthquake capacity” according to China Tibet, a Chinese newspaper, in January 2014.

The Lhasa-Nyingtri railway line will start from Shelrong, an existing railway station on the Lhasa-Shegatse railway line, located at 51 kilometers from Lhasa City. The 401 kilometer railway will go through seven counties in TAR before it reaches Nyingtri. This segment of the railway will link Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Yunnan that border with Burma.

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