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One more Airport on the Plateau
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Claude Arpi | Date:22 Nov , 2016 0 Comments
Claude Arpi
Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

Karze (or Garzi or Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is situated in Western Sichuan, in the historical Kham province of Tibet.

Today, the so-called autonomous prefecture covers an area of 151,078 square kilometres with a population of approximately 880,000 (according to Chinese census). The Tibetans are said to represent some 78% of the total population. The capital city of prefecture is Kangding (traditionally known as Dartsedo or Tachienlu).

In the fall of 1950, the People’s Liberation Army took over area. It was one of the bases chosen by Mao for the Battle of Chamdo (October 1950).

It has always been one of the most restive areas of the plateau inhabited by the Khampa tribes; Karze still has large monasteries such as Dzogchen, Dzongsar, Palpung, Sershul and more recently the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, which has recently been in the news.

For Beijing, the best way to pacify the area is probably to bring millions of tourists.

The ‘restive’ Khampas will be then be used as tourist guides.

The immediate solution is to make Karze accessible by air.

Karze (Garzi) Gesar Airport

The new Karze (Garzi) Gesar Airport is located at the border of Laima Township of Karze County and Cuo’a Township of Derge County.

The Airport is built at 4,068m above the sea level, 52km away from the closest city in Karze County and 150km away from Derge County’s capital.

The new airport got the approval from the National Development and Reform Commission in October 2015. The projected cost is 2.26 billion yuan (US dollars 414.7 million).

The 4,000-meter-long and 45m wide runway (class 4C) is designed to handle 220,000 passengers and 660 tons of freight every year. Boeing 737 and Airbus A319 aircrafts will be able to land on the runway.

A 3,600 square meters terminal will serve the passenger.

It will be the third airport in Karze Prefecture, after Kangding Airport and Daocheng Yading Airport.

The construction has started on April 15, 2016.

First trials were scheduled for 2017, but on November 15, Kangba TV reported that sources closed to the contractor, the Kangding Airport Group Co Ltd affirmed the Karze Gesar Airport’s trial section had been completed end of October (probably ahead of schedule).

The J-20 case

Incidentally, on September 5, a photo showing China’s stealth fighter J-20 was spotted on the Internet at the Daocheng Yading Airport. China Military Online commented that it “triggered the sensitive nerve of Indian media, who claimed that the ‘deployment of J-20 in Tibet’ is a counter measure against India’s plan to deploy the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile along the China-India border. ”

The same website explained that according to ‘Chinese experts’: “the time when the picture was taken is not clear, and even if the J-20 is put into service, it is not likely to be deployed first on the China-India border. Moreover, even if J-20 really appeared in the Daocheng Yading Airport, it may turn out to be a high altitude performance test.”

Well, either it was a J-20 or a dummy, the Chinese authorities should know.

NDTV had reported on September 2: “The image of the stealth fighter appeared on Twitter and on two defense websites, days after China warned India against deploying the supersonic BrahMos missile along the Himalayas.”

The Indian media had further commented: “J-20 is a twin engine fighter with stealth features which enable it to sometimes go undetected by radar, an enormous advantage in air combat over conventional fighter jets which can be tracked on radar. The supersonic J-20 is thought to have gone into low-rate production this January.”

China Military Online remarked: “Indian media is deeply worried about the appearance of J-20 in Tibet.”

The image of the J-20 showed the fighter covered in tarpaulin. The Daocheng Yading Airport is located at an altitude of 14,000 feet, far higher than the new Karze airport; in fact, the Daocheng Yading is the world’s highest civilian airport.
And of course, there no such things as ‘civilian’ airport in China.

Whatever is the truth about the J-20 in Daochen Yading Airport, the new Karze Gesar airport will be of much easier access, being at ‘only’ at 12,000 above sea level.
The new airport will be used of course for ‘civilian’ requirements, but also to tackle internal disturbances …and in case of a conflict with India (Arunachal is not far).


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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