Chinese plans to build roads close to the undefined border with India could bother New Delhi and not Beijing's decision to build a $20 million paved road to the base camp of Mount Everest.
"It's a non-story," a senior South Block official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Hindustan Times when asked about press reports that the new road may have security implications for India.
"If anything, the Chinese plan for the Everest road has ecological dimensions," the official stated. According to the source, the Chinese had embarked on a massive exercise to build up their infrastructure and wanted to showcase the country ahead of the 2008 Olympics.
Defending his government's decision to pave the road to the Everest base camp, visiting Chinese Culture Minister Sun Jiazheng claimed in New Delhi that the project would bring benefits to people in the region.
"The purpose of this new infrastructure project is to make it more convenient for those who would try to make an assault on the world's highest peak," Sun was quoted as saying. He declined to comment on an observation at a press conference that the project was fraught with serious environmental implications.
Others believe that the Chinese decision will prove to be an unmitigated ecological disaster. Air Vice-Marshal PCS Rautela (retd) felt that the road to Mount Everest would destroy the habitat of some very rare animal and plant species.
"I have seen how the Gangotri glacier has been affected after they opened a road till the glacier with a perennial inflow of tourists," Rautela, honorary secretary of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, said, adding that once the Chinese built the road the area around the North Face of Everest would be ruined.
According to NS Sisodia, Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), the security implications of the Chinese constructing the road to Everest "were not so obvious" for India.
Sisodia, a former defence secretary, felt that the Chinese could do more "doable things" like stationing missiles in Tibet rather than using the road to Everest to target India.
"Logistics in a conflict situation is very important. Other roads would have more utility (for the Chinese)," said Sisodia.
Former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, however, had a different take on the proposed Chinese road to Everest. "Of course, it has security implications for India," he told this correspondent from Bangalore.
Referring to the high-altitude railway link, inaugurated with much fanfare by the Chinese, and other infrastructure projects in Tibet, Sinha said all this was a part of "Chinese expansionism".
"You can compare it with what the Soviets were trying to do in Central Asia and Afghanistan…it has very serious strategic implications for India," he stressed.
According to Sinha, the Manmohan Singh government was taking these issues, including some recent Chinese statements reiterating their claims on Arunachal Pradesh, lightly. "Our response is weak and lukewarm."
With inputs from Indraneel Das.