Sinlung /
17 October 2014

Why India is Planning A New Road Near The China Border


An Indian girl poses for photos with an Indian flag at the Indo China border in Bumla at an altitude of 15,700 feet (4,700 meters) above sea level in Arunachal Pradesh, India. India and China disagree over the demarcation of several Himalayan border areas

India has unveiled plans to build a mountain road along the disputed border with China in the country's remote north-east.
The $6.5bn (£4.06bn), 1,800km (1,118 miles) all-weather road will stretch from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh state to where the borders of India and China meet with Myanmar.

The road will connect sparsely populated and poorly-connected hill communities living in four large frontier districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

It will also help farmers in the mountainous region to transport their organic crops and medicinal herbs to low-lying and busy markets in neighbouring Assam state.

"This road will not boost our defences but help connect far flung communities for economic development denied to them for so long," says India's junior home minister Khiren Rijiju, himself a resident of Arunachal Pradesh.

But Indian military officials say the road will help consolidate Indian defences.

This represents a change in Indian military thinking that has so far opposed developing roads near the border, in case it is used by the Chinese during a conflict for speedy movement inside Indian territory.
The road, however, could could ignite fresh tensions between India and China.

The world's two most populous countries disagree over the demarcation of several Himalayan border areas and fought a brief war in 1962.

'Colonial legacy' Chinese foreign office spokesperson Hong Lei has said India's plan may "complicate" the boundary dispute which he described as a "colonial legacy".

"Before a final settlement is reached, we hope that India will not take any actions that may further complicate the situation. We should jointly safeguard the peace and tranquillity of the border area and create favourable conditions for the final settlement of the border issue," he told reporters in Beijing.

Chinese officials say it is not fair of India to undertake such a huge road building project in an area which is still in dispute.

"Once the dispute is resolved and the boundary is clearly demarcated, India can build such roads in its territory, but it would be unfair to build a road in a disputed territory," says Kong Can of the Yunnan Development Research Institute.

He says India should agree to develop the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) highway and economic corridor from Calcutta in India's West Bengal state to Kunming in China's Yunnan province cutting through Bangladesh, India's north-eastern states of Assam and Manipur and Myanmar's northern provinces.

"This highway and economic corridor will help integrate our economies and open huge opportunities for developing our under-developed frontier provinces and create a climate of trust that will help resolve the border dispute," Kong Can said.

India is going slow on the project, so far just agreeing to "explore" its possibilities.

Arunchal Pradesh road Roads in Arunachal Pradesh are poor and make troop movement difficult
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has responded to demands from his security establishment to develop its defences against China, which has reportedly beefed up its military infrastructure in Tibet with a string of new railway lines, roads and at least five new airports.

Also, the rail route to Lhasa is likely to be extended to Nyingchu, close to the Arunachal Pradesh border, Indian military officials say.

"China has vastly beefed up its military infrastructure in Tibet and we are only catching up. Unless we do that, China will always arm-twist us on the border and try to impose a solution on its terms," says Lt Gen JR Mukherjee, former chief of staff in India's eastern army.

Last month India and China pulled back troops after a two-week stand-off near their de facto border in Ladakh. Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting India when India accused his country of the fresh territorial incursion.

Many believe that has added to Indian apprehensions and could have influenced the decision to build the long border road that now upsets China.

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC correspondent and author

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