Delhi sweats as China inches toward Nepal

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by jonwilly, Oct 17, 2010.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. Delhi sweats as China inches toward Nepal
    By Sudha Ramachandran

    BANGALORE - China's construction of a rail link between Lhasa and Xigaze (Shigatse) in the Tibet Autonomous Region will bring its rail network closer to its Nepal border and to India. The rail link has potential to boost Sino-Nepal trade and tourism; it is also expected to enhance China's already substantial influence in Nepal and bring the Chinese rail system closer too to the contested Sino-Indian boundary. A worried India is looking on as the Chinese railway steams southwards.

    Construction now underway of the US$1.9 billion, 253-kilometer rail line between Lhasa, Tibet's capital, and the region's second-largest city, Xigaze, will, according to the official Xinhua news agency, be completed in four years. It is an extension of a line between Golmud in Qinghai province and Lhasa, inaugurated in 2006.

    Xigaze is the capital of prefecture of the same name, Tibet's largest prefecture and one that shares boundaries with India, Nepal and Bhutan. Xigaze city is also the home of the Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism.

    The Golmud-Lhasa line has been hailed as a technological marvel as it cuts through some of the world's most difficult terrain; over 80% of the route lies at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level and large stretches run through permafrost conditions and part traverses an earthquake-prone area.

    Construction of the Lhasa-Xigaze link is expected to be no less challenging. It too will snake across terrain at an altitude of 3,500-4,000 meters. Nearly half the route will burrow through mountains - Mount Everest rises from Xigaze prefecture - or run across bridges. While construction across unstable permafrost soil confronted engineers building the Golmud-Lhasa line, the new route provides geothermal fields with hot springs to set them thinking.

    The Golmud-Lhasa railway came under sharp criticism from environmentalists, who argued that it would have disastrous consequences for the region's ecosystem. Human rights organizations and Tibetan activists said the train link into Tibet was aimed at Chinese consolidation of control over Tibet and would unleash a new wave of Han Chinese migration into the region.

    Many of these concerns and criticisms will apply to the Lhasa-Xigaze.

    An added concern for India is the rail's steady approach towards Nepal, a country it regards as lying in its sphere of influence, and its own borders. It is evident that the Chinese rail system will not terminate at Xigaze. In 2008, for instance, Chinese and Nepalese officials announced plans for extension of the rail beyond Xigaze up to Khasa, a small market town on the Sino-Nepal border - and it might not stop even there. Cheng Xia Ling, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, was quoted in 2008 by Nepal Weekly as saying: "We are even planning to link it to Kathmandu in not too distant future."

    Landlocked Nepal has been eyeing the southward advance of the Chinese rail system with anticipation. It will bring it more tourists from China and Chinese trains loaded with goods will reduce the Himalayan country's long-standing dependence on Indian imports. To Nepal, the Chinese rail link promises opportunity.

    For India, the southward advance of China's rail system is fraught with implications for its security and influence. Nepal has played a traditional role as buffer between India and China. New Delhi has wielded considerable influence in Nepal for decades, half of Nepal's trade is with India and its currency is linked to the Indian rupee.

    India's influence has been on the decline in recent years, especially with Nepali Maoists entering Nepal's political mainstream. Indian officials believe that during their brief stint in power, the Maoists built strong ties with the Chinese government. Anti-India sentiment in Nepal is high, with many people and politicians blaming "Delhi's meddling" for an ongoing political impasse.

    Indian officials fear that the arrival of trains bearing Chinese people and goods will further undermine their country's already weakening hold in Nepal.

    Delhi also has worries over other proposed rail links that might be constructed up to the Sino-Indian boundary at Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. China is contemplating a rail link from Xigaze to Yatung, a trading center a few kilometers from Nathu La, a mountain pass that connects Tibet with Sikkim. Another rail line will run eastwards from Lhasa to Nyingchi near Arunachal.

    This southward expansion of China's rail lines is of concern to several Indian security analysts. Much of the Sino-Indian boundary is disputed and the two countries fought a war over it in 1962, which India lost. Incursions by both sides, especially along the eastern sector, are frequent given the fuzziness of the boundary.

    It was believed that the Sino-Indian boundary at Sikkim was more or less settled, especially with China implicitly recognizing Indian claims over Sikkim through a 2003 agreement that provides for Sino-Indian border trade via Nathu La. However, Chinese incursions into the Finger Point area in Sikkim in the summer of 2008 and its statements at that time indicated that the boundary at Sikkim was far from settled in China's view.

    As for the boundary in the eastern sector, China continues to lay claim to around 90,000 square kilometers of territory that roughly approximates Arunachal. It has stepped up its rhetoric, especially with regard to its claims over Tawang.

    It is in the context of these contested claims over the boundary that the extension of rail lines towards India is being seen.

    Although China's Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun has described the extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa line as a key project in China's long-and medium-term railway network expansion, aimed at speeding up Tibet's social and economic development, Indian analysts are warning that it has strategic implications.

    In an article in Japan Times, Brahma Chellaney, author of Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, wrote that the rail link to Tibet "has now started being used to supply 'combat readiness materials for the air force' there." Regarding the proposed rail extension to India's borders in the east, he told the Times of India that it "will strengthen China's rapid military deployment capability in the eastern (Arunachal) sector." China would be in a position to rapidly move its armed forces and strike at India whenever it wanted to, he said.

    Road and railway building has been a key element of China's grand strategy in the Himalayan region for decades. Building motorways into Tibet began as early as 1950. As the People's Liberation Army prepared to annex Tibet, Mao Zedong advised it to "advance while building roads." Roads linking Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan to Tibet were constructed at great human cost, yet pursued with much determination because they facilitated the transport of troops to Tibet - which enabled the quelling of unrest there. They also helped China's economic development of Tibet.

    In contrast, India's infrastructure development in the Himalayan region has been lethargic. Its road and rail network near its boundary with China is abysmal. For instance, there is just one single-lane road connecting Sikkim's capital Gangtok to Nathu La and one landslide-prone road linking Sikkim to the rest of India. Sikkim's road density is 28.45 kilometers per 100 square kilometers against the national average of 84 kilometers. Arunachal Pradesh is even worse off, with a road density of just 18.65 kilometers per 100 square kilometers. India might have the world's largest rail network but there are no trains running into Sikkim or Arunachal.

    This means that when trainloads of Chinese goods begin arriving at Nathu La around a decade from now, mere truckloads of Indian goods will be trickling in.

    Underlying India's poor transport infrastructure in its border regions is a perception that roads and railways there are not in India's interest, as they would enhance China's access to India. Such transport links are not seen as providing Indian access to China.

    Fear, rather than ambition, thus dictated India's strategy to the Himalayan region.

    But with China flattening the Himalayan barrier to South Asia with its ambitious road and railway building in the region, India has been forced to respond.

    Slowly it is acting to build roads and railways in its states bordering China. It has plans to build rail infrastructure into Nepal as well. Five rail links between the two countries are being planned. Most are just a few kilometers long, and do not run through the kind of rugged terrain that the Chinese in the Himalayas have to contend with. However, Indian engineers are likely to run into a far more formidable barrier in executing the projects - official lethargy and negative mindsets.

    Unless India looks at its Himalayan infrastructure building as an opportunity rather than with trepidation, it will not be able to gain benefits of its own from China's leveling of the Himalayas.

    Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

    john
     
  2. One thing India and Nepal share - Maoist insurgencies that threaten to destabilise their respective governments.

    Being run by Maoists'd definitely put some clear blue water between them and China. :wink: