In this file photo, Buddhist nuns walk past a poster showing Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Hu Jintao in Potala Palace square in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. (REUTERS)
In this file photo, Buddhist nuns walk past a poster showing Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Hu Jintao in Potala Palace square in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. (REUTERS)

China building villages all along Tibet border, disputed with India, Bhutan

The Tibet Autonomous Region has the longest international border with India besides having shorter ones with Nepal and Bhutan, and the shortest with Myanmar.
By Sutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda
PUBLISHED ON MAY 21, 2021 01:23 PM IST

China has systematically pumped in money for nearly a decade to build “villages of moderate prosperity” all along the 4,000km border of Tibet, a large part of which aligns with the disputed boundary with India.

A new policy paper on Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) released on Friday by the State Council Information Office said by the end of 2020 many border villages in the remote province were better connected to highways and all villages in such areas had access to mobile communication.

The TAR has the longest international border with India besides having shorter ones with Nepal and Bhutan and the shortest with Myanmar.

China has land boundary disputes with India and Bhutan, which have not been resolved despite protracted negotiations carried on over decades.

The policy paper’s statement on border villages matches several recent reports, many based on independent satellite imagery, which say China is building new villages along the border with India to bolster its contested territorial claims, especially close to Arunachal Pradesh.

The white paper, titled “Tibet Since 1951: Liberation, Development and Prosperity”, was released on Friday. “Developing border areas and improving people’s lives”, is a section in the paper.

“Under the guidance of the (Communist Party of China) Party Central Committee, financial input has been increasing year-by-year for border development in Tibet. Particularly since 2012, border villages, townships and counties in Tibet have been granted more preferential state policies on infrastructure construction, covering water, electricity, roads, and housing.”

In 2017, the “Plan of TAR on the Construction of Villages of Moderate Prosperity in Border Areas (2017-2020) was released”, which, the paper said, was designed to ensure better access to housing, water, electricity, roads, communications, and internet among other aspects.

“Through all these efforts in the border areas in Tibet, infrastructure has seen remarkable improvements, all industries are flourishing, and the people enjoy better living and working conditions,” the white paper said.

The paper said the inhabitants along the “4,000-km external border line” have harsh living and working conditions and a high incidence of poverty.

The policy paper did not share details about the number of new villages that were built or how many received financial and infrastructure help.

However, a 2019 report in the official TAR news portal had said the government had plans to build 624 “well off” villages and farms on Tibet’s borders.

The policy clearly tallies with what President Xi Jinping had said in 2013.

On March 9, 2013, when joining the delegation from Tibet in a panel discussion at the first session of the 12th National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, Xi said: “To govern the country well we must first govern the frontiers well, and to govern the frontiers well we must first ensure stability in Tibet.”

In 2017, Chinese president Xi Jinping had also written a letter to Tibetan herdsmen living near the Arunachal Pradesh border to “set down roots” and safeguard “Chinese territory”.

Last August, Chinese state media reported on how the government has improved infrastructure in villages close to the Arunachal Pradesh border.

State-owned Global Times tabloid cited authorities in Yadong county of TAR as saying that 27 households with 124 people had “voluntarily moved from... Yadong county to Pangda village in September”.

A December 6, 2020, Hindustan Times report said that several villages had come up in the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China, and the move had followed the upgrading and construction of Chinese military facilities, including heliports and missile bases, all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the aftermath of the 2017 standoff at Doklam.

A new village is also said to have come up near Longju, near Arunachal, which witnessed the first clash between India and China in 1959, according to India-based Tibet expert, Claude Arpi.

The policy paper also detailed the overall infrastructure development in TAR.

“Highways with a total length of 118,800km have been built, providing access to all administrative villages in the region. Ninety-four percent of towns and 76 percent of administrative villages have direct access to asphalt and concrete roads,” it said, adding that some 700km of expressways and grade-one highways are in service.

“A number of feeder airports have been built, including Bamda Airport in Qamdo, Mainling Airport in Nyingchi, Peace Airport in Xigaze, and Gunsa Airport in Ngari. Tibet now has 140 domestic and international air routes in operation, reaching 66 cities.”

Many of the new airports are located close to border areas, especially with India.

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