The 12th Five Year Plan (FYP, 2011—15) approved by 9th Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) People’s Congress at its recent session (January 8-10, 2011) has marked launching of a new drive by China to strengthen strategic infrastructure in Tibet. The announced goals included
establishment of emergency relief and rescue bases, new railway projects, expressways and expansion of airports. Media pronouncements made after the Congress (11 February, 2011) have revealed that all targets under the previous plan had been completed ahead of schedule and even work on projects scheduled to start under the next plan had actually begun.
Major projects envisaged during the 12th FYP are as follows.
Railways: (1) Completion of the extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway line to Shigaze,(2) Brginning of Lhasa – Linzhi railway extention project (3) conducting feasibility study on rail links between Lhasa one hand and Chengdu and Kunming on the other. (4) linking Lhasa with Urumqi through a shortest possible railway link between Golma (Qunghai) and Kurla (Xinjian) reducing the travel distance by 1000 kms. At present, the 4000 kms long route from Lazha to Urumqi is detour line, that is Xining to Lanzhou to Urumqi. (5) Completion of railway links between Golma and Dunhuang (Gansu) and between Golma and Chengdu. And (6) Establishing Xining (Qinghai) – Chengdu and Xining – Kunming (Yunnan) railway lines.
Expressways: (i) The length of express ways to be raised to 70,000 kms by the end of 12th plan, representing an increase of 20% over 58,000 kms completed by the end of previous plan. (ii) Tarring of 80% of the highways and link 80% of the village roads with highways. (iii) Building a net work of express ways within one year to link five major cities—Lhasa , Xigaze (Shiagatse), NaQu(Nagchu) , Shan Nan , Lin Zhi(Nying Chi), so that these can be reached within four hours from Lhasa. (iv)Completing Lhasa—Xigaze expressway to be completed in the year 2011, reducing distance from Lhasa to Shannan to four hours drive within this year. The five major cities is to form a” Four Hour Economic Zone”. (v) Developing speedy road/ railway links with neighboring provinces and building Land Route Trade Bridge for trading with South Asia. (vi) Connecting all Border Defense Posts by roads. (vii) Constructing ‘Chi Long’ border defense road, (vii) further construction of highway linkd link with METUO (viii) Rebuildding Xinjian – Tibet, Sichuan – Tibet, and Yuunan – Tibet highways, as well as China – Nepal highway.
Air ports: (i) Rebuild new Naqu Airport (ii) Expanding Linzhi Milin, Changdu, Bangda and Gongga Airports. (ii) Building Emergency Relief and Rescue Bases and Common use Air, Land and Take off bases. (iii) Building Tibet Aviation fuel distribution centres. (iv) Connecting Lhasa with all domestic and international capital cities.
Oil Gas Pipe Line: (i) Building and linking Qinghai oil and gas field with Lhasa gas/oil pipe line, (ii) constructing Lhasa-Xigaze – Shannan pipe lines. (iii) Building Lhasa Railways loading/unloding oil depots. (iv)Launching work on Naqu – Changdu refined oil products pipe lines.
The 12th FYP for Tibet demonstrates the high confidence level of the Chinese government in handling Tibet affairs. Beijing’s time bound pursuance of mega projects in Tibet indicates its intentions to achieve total control over communication lines in the TAR. The authorities appear to have shelved for the time being a project to extend the railway line from Hetian (Xinjian) to Lhasa as it would run along the border line with India; instead Tibet and Xinjiang are being linked through a new shorter and safer Golma-Korla railway line that would reduce the distance by 1000 kms .Another proposed link between Golma and Dunhuang(Gansu province) will help in speedy transfer of strategic assets to Tibet from bases in Gansu. The readiness now of the government to link Tibet through Sichuan-Tibet and Yunnan –Tibet railways, is notable as earlier, the authorities were not in favour of the latter two railway lines that they will be very close to Indian border and as such had opted for the present more hazardous difficult longer rail route.
For India, the current push to infrastructure projects, being witnessed in Tibet, offer both challenges and opportunities. China is aggressively pushing trade with India and export of heavy machinery through railways will make it competitive and economical while bidding for projects in India. China is preparing to make Tibet a trading hub with South Asian countries. While it may not be possible for India to match such Chinese moves, development of infrastructure in Eastern part of India merits New Delhi’s immediate attention. Strategically, the new thrust on expanding railway /road /air network in Tibet facilitating rapid deployment of men and material could be a matter of concern for India. Needless to say that in response, the level of India’s defense preparedness along the border with China, requires to be fully enhanced.
(The writer Mr Ashok Tiku is an experienced China analyst based in New Delhi. Views expressed are his own. Email.: email@example.com)