China's Tibet railway line raises a red flag for India's security

Claude Arpi
Claude ArpiJul 29, 2016 | 12:02

China's Tibet railway line raises a red flag for India's security

In May 2015, the Chinese government published a white paper on defence, putting forward new objectives for the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Beijing announced that the PLA's military strategy was to "win informationised local wars".

China Military Online, a website affiliated to the PLA, explained: "The white paper systematically expounded on the Chinese military's missions and strategic tasks in the new era."


It spoke of "making preparation for military struggle that shall be focused on winning local wars in conditions of modern technology".

Highlighting maritime military struggle (in the South China Sea for example), the white paper said: "The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned."


Mao's old view of "an army of peasants" is dead and gone. In the years to come, the Chinese navy and the air force are bound to take a more preponderant place in Beijing's defence strategy, but it does not mean that China is going to forget its land neighbours, first and foremost India.

In May 2016, The Global Times announced that the status of the Tibet Military Command (TMC) facing India from Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh was to be raised.

It was part of the in-depth reforms instituted by President Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of the all-powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).

Quoting an unknown "analyst", the Communist Party's mouthpiece reported: "By raising the TMC's authority level and putting it under the jurisdiction of the PLA (ground forces), China continues to strengthen its military presence in the autonomous region and aims to allow the military command to shoulder more combat assignments."


Assignments, but against whom?

The fact is that there is only India on the other side of the Himalayan range. China Youth Daily had reported earlier that this marks a "new journey for the TMC's construction."

Zhao Zhong, deputy director of the TMC's political work department, explained: "The elevation of the authority level is not only an improvement for the troops' designation, but also an expansion of their function and mission."

Quoting "a source close to the matter", The Global Times suggested that "the command may undertake some kind of military combat mission in the future".

Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the tabloid that the TMC "bears great responsibility to prepare for possible conflicts between China and India, (because) currently it is difficult to secure all the military resources they need."

For this, Beijing has a clearly-defined plan - and a tool: the railway line.

The most important strategic development in the recent decades has been the arrival of the train on the Tibetan plateau in July 2006.

For Beijing, it has been a historic event. The train has brought radical changes not only for China or the Tibetans, but for India too.


An article in China Tibet Online remarks: "Foreigners only know that the Great Wall is the seventh wonder of the world; actually, modern Chinese construction is even more amazing."

And it cited the train, termed the "pride of the Chinese people". Hundred thousand workers "with no past references, have solved many technical problems such as building a railway through frozen soil, and achieved a miracle in human railway construction, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway."


Ten years ago, Beijing hoped to solve several issues with the arrival of the train on the plateau.

It has partially succeeded. The railway indeed triggered a frenzy of infrastructure development on the plateau; the instability of the restive region has apparently been contained; a mega economic boom has been brought by tourism and as importantly, the border with India is mightily reinforced.

One could add that the exploitation of the natural resources of the plateau (like water and minerals) has reached new heights.

The main pretext for rapidly developing the infrastructure has been tourism.

In 2015, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) broke all records; it welcomed more than 20 million tourists.

The tourism industry in the TAR generated $4.26 billion, nearly three times the figure of the year 2010.

For Beijing, the tourist boom is a win-win solution to solve all the problems of the plateau; the Chinese authorities have hence decided to accelerate the infrastructure construction and develop high-end tourism brands with a new railway line from Chengdu (Sichuan) to Lhasa.

The western leg from Lhasa to Nyingchi, to be completed by 2020, will reach the Indian border.


Then, a railway line to Kyirong and Nepal, probably to be continued to Kathmandu and perhaps Lumbini, a second international airport in Lhasa, a new airport in Nagchu, a four-lane highway between Lhasa and Nyingchi (the Arunachal border) and finally the improvement of National Highway 219 between Tibet and Xinjiang, cutting across the Indian territory in the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh. All these projects have serious strategic implications for India, as the infrastructure built on the plateau has a dual use: civilian and military.

On April 25, 2016, Xinhua reported that the National People's Congress (NPC) discussed a new law on national defence transport. The legislation will cover the use of infrastructure for defence as well as civilian purposes.

The idea is to integrate military and civilian resources and make sure that the national defence transport network is compatible "with market and economic development."

In August 2015, during the Tibet Work Forum, a large gathering on Tibet, Xi reiterated his theory about the "border areas".

He said, "Governing border areas are the key for governing a country, and stabilising Tibet is a priority for governing border areas."

This speaks for itself. The time has come for India to wake up.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: July 29, 2016 | 12:09
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