Strategic Tibet Highway Near Arunachal Border

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    Recently ,China has completed construction of a strategically significant highway through the world’s deepest canyon in Tibet along the Brahmaputra river.

    Brahmaputra River

    • Brahmaputra River (also known as Jamuna in Bangladesh, Tsangpo in Tibet, Yarlung Zangbo Jiang in China) is a major river of Central and South Asia.
    • It originates from the Chemayungdung glacier of the Kailash range near the Mansarovar lake.
    • It passes through the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, and Bangladesh and enters India west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh.
    • The Brahmaputra is the longest river in Tibet and its valley is the world’s deepest with a 7,000-metre drop from the highest mountain peak to the lowest basin
    • Tributaries: Dibang, Lohit, Siang, Burhi Dihing, Tista, and Dhansari.
    • It is a perennial river and has several peculiar characteristics due to the physiography and prevailing climatic conditions.
    • In its lower course, the river is both a creator and a destroyer as it deposits huge quantities of fertile alluvial soil but also causes disastrous and frequent floods.
    • It flows around 2,900 km from its source in the Himalayas to its confluence with the Ganges (Ganga) River, after which the mixed waters empty into the Bay of Bengal at Sunderban Delta.

    Image Courtesy: ORF

    Major Highlights 

    • Highway 
      • The construction of the highway  began in 2014, is part of a wider infrastructure push in border areas in Tibet. 
      • The highway took seven years to complete and passes through the Grand Canyon of the Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is called in Tibet. 
      • This is the  significant passageway to Medog county that borders Arunachal, directly connecting the Pad township in Nyingchi to Baibung in Medog county.
      • The highway will reduce the distance between Nyingchi city and Medog from 346 km to 180 km and will cut the travel time by eight hours. 
      • It will enable greater access to remote areas along the disputed border with Arunachal Pradesh in India.
    • Railway line 
      • In November 2020 , China began work on a strategically important railway line — its second major rail link to Tibet after the Qinghai-Tibet railway that opened in 2006 — that will link Sichuan province with Nyingchi..
        • The first segment of the line within the Sichuan province, from Chengdu to Yaan, was completed in December 2018. Work on the 1,011-km section from Yaan to Nyingchi will be finished in 2030.
    •  The railway will help “transport advanced equipment and technologies from the rest of China to Tibet and bring local products out”.
    • New civilian settlements in disputed territories
      • The construction of new civilian settlements — along with the expansion of existing smaller hamlets — along border areas, some of which lie in disputed territories claimed by India and Bhutan aims to strengthen China’s control over the land.
      • In 2017, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government launched a plan to build “moderately well-off villages” in border areas, under which 628 “first line and second line villages” (referring to those right on the border and others in remote areas slightly further within )would be developed along China’s borders with India, Bhutan and Nepal.
      • Last year, satellite images emerged showing a new village called Pangda built 2-3 km into what Bhutan sees as its land.
      • On January 18 2021, another village built 4-5 km into what India sees as its territory in Arunachal came to light via satellite images. 
        • Indian officials said this land has been under China’s effective control since 1959 and there were military barracks there earlier. 

    Issues for India 

    • China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet, which is firmly rejected by India. 
    • The civilian settlements, along with the new infrastructure connectivity, are  aimed at bolstering China’s control over the areas.
    • A highway connecting the border will largely improve the efficiency and convenience of military personnel and material transportation and logistical supplies in the border area.
      • If a scenario of a crisis happens at the border, the railway can act as a ‘fast track’ for the delivery of strategic materials for China .

    Various Initiative Taken By India 

    • Border Area Development Programme (BADP)
      • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has decided to spend 10% funds of a Centrally sponsored scheme only on border projects in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim to ramp up infrastructure along the China border.
      • The BADP, initially started in 1980 for the western border, has over the years expanded to cover 396 blocks of 111 border districts in 16 States and two UTs.
    • Nechiphu Tunnel 
      • The Union defence minister  laid the foundation stone of the Nechipu Tunnel on the Balipara-Chariduar-Tawang (BCT) road in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh.
      • The 450m-long tunnel will bypass the existing road, will be D-shaped and comprise two lanes of 3.5m width each. 
        • Another 1.8 km-long tunnel is also being constructed on the BCT road and both will reduce distance to the area bordering China by 10km.
    • Sisseri River bridge
      • It was  inaugurated  at Lower Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh .
      • The 200-metre long bridge between Jonai-Pasighat-Ranaghat-Roing road will provide connectivity between Dibang Valley and Siang to meet the long-pending demand of the people of Arunachal Pradesh as it would cut down the travel time from Pasighat to Roing by about five hours.
      • It provides connectivity to Tinsukia via Dhola-Sadiya bridge.
      • It was constructed by Project Brahmank of Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
    • Bogibeel bridge
      • It was inaugurated  in Assam on the birth anniversary of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 
      • The Bogibeel bridge will connect the south bank of the Brahmaputra river in Assam’s Dibrugarh to Silapathar in Dhemaji bordering Arunachal Pradesh. 
      • The 4.9 km-long bridge on the Brahmaputra river boasts of being Asia’s second longest rail-cum-road bridge.
    • Integrated Battle Groups (IBG)
      • The concept of Integrated Battle Groups (IBG) is being given shape in the newly-raised 17 Corps to meet the current challenges in the northern borders
      • The 17 Corps carried out ‘Him-Vijay’, a mega exercise at a height of around 15,000 ft in Arunachal Pradesh in October 2020.

    Border disputes between India and China

    The India-China borders can be subdivided into three sectors:

    • Western Sector or Aksai Chin Sector: The region is claimed by the Chinese government post-1962 war as an autonomous part of Xinjiang region which is originally supposed to be the part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
    • Central Sector: It is the less disputed section of the Indo-China border but recent Doklam standoff and Nathu La Pass trading issues have brought distress at all levels.
    • Eastern Sector or Arunachal Pradesh: McMahon Line had differentiated India and China in this sector but in 1962 war the People’s Liberation Army covered 9000 sq. km. area. The announcement of a unilateral ceasefire made them step back on the international borderline. However, China has been claiming that area as their own and recently they have started to claim whole Arunachal Pradesh as their own.

    Image Courtesy: Eurasiantimes

    Initiatives to Resolve Border Disputes

    • Shimla agreement 1914: McMahon line was established and was accepted by Tibet and British Indian authorities. Chinese authorities have been against this from 1914 till today as they believe that Tibet was not a sovereign authority with no power to conclude any treaties.
    • Panchsheel agreement 1954: It was a pact to respect each other’s territorial boundaries and sovereignty but since 1962 China has rarely honoured the agreement.
    • 1989 CBM: Confidence Building Measure policy was aimed to settle disputes mutually and peacefully.
    • Line of Actual Control: India considers Aksai chin as a part of India and China as theirs, both of them follow a different line of control but in 1993 PM Narasimha Rao agreed to maintain peace along LAC which separates Jammu and Kashmir from Aksai Chin.
    • 2003 Principles for Relations & Comprehensive Cooperation: It was a three-step process where both sides prepared their maps and exchanged for each other’s approval. China accepted India’s authority over Sikkim.
    • CBM in 2005: Both nations agreed to implement modalities in CBM along LAC.
    • Coordination along the Border: In 2012 both countries used common terms for working methods regarding the Indo-China border.
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first informal summit in April 2018 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, months after the Doklam standoff.
    • Modi and Xi held their second informal summit in Mamallapuram near Chennai with a focus on further broadening the bilateral ties.
    • Both sides have been asserting that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, it is necessary to maintain peace and tranquillity in border areas.

    Source :TH