Originally Published 2005-09-21 05:53:53 Published on Sep 21, 2005
The People's Republic of China (PRC) is now revealing, more assertively than before, its high expectations with regard to the opening up of Sino-Indian border trade specifically through revival of Yadong (Shigatse, Tibet) Trade Post, which was set up on May 10,
China: Vision for Tibet-Indian Ocean Trade Route
The People's Republic of China (PRC) is now revealing, more assertively than before, its high expectations with regard to the opening up of Sino-Indian border trade specifically through revival of Yadong (Shigatse, Tibet) Trade Post, which was set up on May 10, 1962,but subsequently closed down due to what the Chinese say the worsening of the Sino-Indian relations at that time. The new emphasis on Yadong's importance is being noticed at a time when, taking the cue from the importance given to border trade by Premier Wen Jiabao during his April 2005 visit to India, the leaders in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) have already started expressing hopes for a substantial increase by 2010 in the volume of Tibet's trade with India and Nepal to US$ 3 billion. 

The economic and strategic importance to China of its border trade through opening up of Yadong, been well articulated in a recent Chinese language write-up in the authoritative journal " Eastern Liaowang", which was also covered by Beijing's CCTV and reproduced in the Website of the China-Tibet Information Centre (September 12,2005). Captioned "From Tibet to Indian Ocean", it disclosed that since the April 2005 visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to India, investigation groups from the Tibet Government, Rikaze (Shigatse) Administration and the Central Committee for Drafting Laws (CCDL) have paid visits to Yadong. The visits, meant to revive that Port in the changed circumstances, resulted in the finalisation of a report by the TAR Government (July 20,2005) on the subject of 'Possibilities of Opening up Yadong ', which is now with the CCDL in Bejing for its approval and enactment of necessary laws.

The aforesaid visits were followed by trips by Tibet officials to both the Border Trade Markets designated by India and China - Changgu (Sikkim) and Renqinggang (Tibet, 28 kms from Nathula Pass) respectively. The officials have found brisk construction activities in the sites of both the Markets. "Eastern Liaowang" then revealed that the Renqinggang Border Market is likely to open in the latter half of 2006. ('China Daily' of September 12, 2005 separately referred to a press statement of a Sikkim Government spokesman that the border trading through Changgu would begin on October 2,2005).

"Eastern Liaowang" then went on to stress the strategic importance of opening-up of Yadong Port, by describing the latter area as an important military base in China's Southwest. As next stage to expected completion of Qinghai-Tibet Railway in July 2006, a railway project linking Lhasa and Yadong is being envisaged under the TAR's 11th Five Year Plan. Once this line is operational, goods from China's Western parts can reach South Asia nations via Yadong, thus reducing the dependence in this regard on transportation through Hongkong etc. The item then quoted a high Tibet official to say, " Tibet's trade is now entirely carried out through Tianjin Port, which is more than 5000 kms away. Once Yadong opens up, the distance between Lhasa-Yadong and Indian ports like Calcutta would only be around 1200 kms. Thus Yadong could undoubtedly become a bridge and link between China's Western parts and the South Asian nations". 

The journal then predicted that Yadong region's economy would boom as a result of the expected investment in capital construction and service industries there after the trade port opens. Cross- border trade will pick up with commodities like silk reaching India from Shanghai and Hangzhou. Referring to press reports, it highlighted the possibilities of a Shanghai-India linkage in another way, following the likely materialization of a Gas Authority of India-China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation joint petrochemical project in the PRC, aimed at transporting its products to that city through China's East-West Oil pipeline.

Beijing by all indications is on a border trade offensive, which is being felt in respect of China's neighbours in all directions - Russia, Vietnam, Myanmar and the countries in Central and South Asia. Regarding Central Asia, the Chinese plan to open three Border Trade Markets by end of the year. In South Asia, the Khunjerab Border Market linking Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) with Pakistan is already operational. Starting of cross-border trade now through Sikkim and reactivating Yadong Trade Post show that the offensive, under the overall Western Area Development Strategy of China, has taken deep roots. The Strategy itself fits in well with the new "People- First" approach of the Post-Jiang Zemin leadership which lays stress on a balanced and sustainable development, implying a need to give equal emphasis to the prosperity of both the backward inland provinces and advanced coastal regions. 

The Chinese over-all border trade policy has also a security dimension, which the neighbouring countries can ill afford to ignore. Development is the declared primary goal of China now for which it needs an "international environment of long term stability and a stable surrounding environment". The PRC has accordingly formulated a new security Concept with 'mutual trust' as basis. It is clear that trade will indirectly impinge on the concept's implementation. New Delhi views the Indian Ocean region as important from the viewpoints of economy, trade, politics and security and as such may feel that any extension of Beijing's influence in that region could lead to a strategic competition between the two in the region. In fact, this is already happening. Energy security field amply reflects the situation in this regard. With the PRC becoming a net importer of oil in 1994, the protection of Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCS) has become a priority for Beijing. This has led to urgency in China to build a blue water navy capable of patrolling the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Chinese interplay between trade and security comes through clearly in their 'commercial' port project at Gwadar (Pakistan), capable of serving as a transit terminal for crude oil supplies to Xinjiang and moves to build a road and rail network linking Myanmar with the bordering Yunnan province. An additional point in this connection relates to Chinese efforts to construct a pipeline connecting Yunnan with gas fields in Myanmar in the interest of promoting transport and energy sectors in the former. In response, New Delhi is aiming to build a pipeline to India from Myanmar, via Bangladesh. The bottom line therefore is that if the neighbouring countries like India feel concerned about the geo-political implications of China's initiatives, particularly to establish Tibet-Indian Ocean trade links, the same appears justified. 

The author is Research Fellow, Observer Research Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected].
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