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Relentless development of infrastructure in Tibet
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Claude Arpi | Date:01 Jun , 2017 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.

China relentlessly continues to develop the infrastructure on the Roof of the World.

Last week, China Tibet News announced the reconstruction and an extension of Lhasa Kongkar Airport which is scheduled to start in July: “the land expropriation and demolition work of the reconstruction and extension project of Kongkar Airport has been nearly completed and construction is expected to start.”

Su Zhiqiang, member of the Tibet Civil Aviation Administration mentioned the budget of the new project: 3.9 billion yuan.

By 2025, the Kongkar Airport will yearly accommodate 9 million passenger and 80,000 tons of cargo. The Chinese website says that 88,000 square meters will be added to T3 terminal and a 56,000 square meters parking lot will be built. The Tibet Civil Aviation expects the passenger traffic to double by 2020 (compared to 2015).

China Tibet News notes: “The construction of new airport terminal area will further improve the comprehensive security capabilities of Kongkar Airport, meet people’s travel demands, and effectively promote Tibet’s economic and social development.”

The ‘defense’ is not mentioned.

But that is not all: the Highway between the Airport and Tsetang will be upgraded. The same website reports: “the subgrade earthwork, bridge project, and tunnel project have been basically completed.”

The length of the ‘upgraded’ highway is 90 km: “the running speed is designed to be 100 km/h. It is first-class highway with four lanes. There are 54 bridges, 1 tunnel, and 189 culverts along the highway. Besides, there are 9 separate interchanges and 6 interchanges.”

It is expected to be opened on June 30.

In Southeastern Tibet (Yunnan province), the Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is planning to invest 13 billon yuan to build four ‘secondary’ roads.

According toKangba TV, the first road will be the 62 km-long Xiangwei secondary road, starting from Yisong in Shangri-La City to end up in Cangjue Village in Wujing Township. The investment is estimated to be 3 billion yuan.

The second one is the 121 km-long Xiangxiang secondary road, starting from Junmachang also in Shangri-La City, it will end at Mt. Daxue pass; it will connect provincial way S209, Dongwang road and provincial way S416. It is estimated at more than 4 billion yuan.

The third is the 61km-long Weixi-Judian secondary road which will start from Lahezhu in Weixi County will end in Judian’s Xiaohekou in Lijiang City. It will connect provincial way S210 and Dongwang road: estimate is 2 billion yuan.

The fourth is the 148.91km-long Huzhong secondary road, from Hutiaoxia Township in Shangri-La City to Junmachang, connecting national G214 and provincial way S209. It will cost nearly 5 billion yuan.

What will this infrastructure used for? 

A study recently published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and conducted by the Saïd Business School brings some light on the issue. It found out that “low-quality infrastructure investments pose significant risks to the Chinese and the global economy.” The authors of the study argued that over half of the infrastructure investments in China have destroyed rather than generated economic value.

The study authored by Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn is based on the large database, which analyzed 95 large Chinese road and rail transport projects, and 806 other transport projects.

Dr Ansar commented: “It is a myth that China grew thanks largely to heavy infrastructure investment. It grew due to bold economic liberalisation and institutional reforms, and this growth is now threatened by over-investment in low-grade infrastructure. The lesson for other markets is that policy makers should place their attention on software and deep institutional reforms, and exercise far greater caution in diverting scarce resources to large-scale physical infrastructure projects.”

The conclusion is that massive infrastructure investment programmes are not a viable development strategy for developing countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria or Brazil, which dream of using China’ model of economic development.

If not viable for Mainland China, can it be sustainable in Tibet?

Though the risks are the same, large scale tourism development in Tibet, i.e. The Disney Land of Snows, justifies heavy infrastructure and though not explicitly mentioned, the ‘defense’ of the borders needs is present in the minds of the planners in Beijing, which knows of the importance of ‘dual use’ of infrastructure on the plateau. See my previous posting.

New tourist packages

In a recent article, Kangba TV quoted Lhasa Transport Industry Group, Tibet’s largest passenger road transport company, about the opening of direct routes/packages to scenic spots in Tibet on May 1.

According to the Group, nine regional and six inter-provincial tourist routes will be launched by the company in the next three years.

The list of the tours gives an indication where the infrastructure development will take place in the coming years.

(Note in Tour No 10, China is planning a Lhasa-Kashgar trip via Western Tibet and the Aksai Chin Road. Should not Delhi object to the flocks of tourists crossing the Indian territory?)

A quick glance at the tours itinerary shows that Western Tibet will be one of the focus of development in the years to come.

Interestingly, a promotion meeting, with the theme of ‘Secret Area of Western Tibet, Ngari in Heaven”, was held in Beijing on May 24.

Xinhua reported: “Ngari Prefecture in Tibet Autonomous Region has long attracted myriad tourists coming from afar with its unique tourism resources. In recent years, according to the strategic deployment about building Gangdise international tourism cooperation zone, as well as the rapid development of self-driving travel in Tibet, Ngari has increasingly become a destination selection of self-driving travelers.”

More infrastructure in the pipeline.

In fact, Plans 7, 8 10 will take the tourists close to the Indian borders of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh.

India should watch (and act).

The Fifteen Proposed Packages/Tours

  • The first one is the 500km-long one-day tour of Namtso (Lhasa-Yangbajain geothermal hot springs-Mt. Nyanchen Thanglha-Namtso-Lhasa).
  • The second one is the 220km-long one-day tour of Yamdrok Yumtso.
  • The third one is the 1,414 km-long circular tour of Lhasa, Nyingchi and Lhoka
  • The fourth one is the 336km-long one-day circular tour of Lhoka (Lhasa-Samye Monastery-Yumbulakang-Yarlung Tsangpo-Lhasa Kongkar Airport-Lhasa).
  • The fifth one is the 1,480km-long three-day tour of Mt. Chomolungma or Mt. Everest (lasting for four days and three nights).
  • The sixth one is the 442km-long one-day tour of Karu la Glacier (Lhasa-Yamdrok Yumtso-Nagartse County-Karo la Glacier-Lhasa).
  • The seventh one is the 3,276km-long Lhasa-Ruins of Guge Kingdom line (lasting for nine days and eight nights).
  • The eighth one is the 916km-long Kyirong-Purang line.
  • The ninth one is te 60km-long Dadong scenic spot line.
  • The tenth one is the 6,918km-long Lhasa-Kashgar line (lasting for seven days and six nights).
  • The 11th one is the 4,024km-long Lhasa-Xining line (through Xining-Golmud-Lhasa highway for five days and four nights).
  • The 12th one is the 5,380km-long Lhasa-Chengdu road in Sichuan province (through for 11 days and ten nights).
  • The 13th one is the 4,564km-long Lhasa-Xining line (from Xi’an to Lhasa, passing by Gansu and Qinghai provinces for five days and four nights).
  • The 14th one is the 4,804km-long Lhasa-Chengdu line (through Northern section of Sichuan-Tibet highway for eight days and seven nights).
  • The 15th one is the 3,514km long Lhasa-Lijiang line (through Yunnan-Tibet highway for six days and five nights).

The Lhasa Transport Industry Group concludes: “Direct routes to and in scenic spots around Lhasa will be gradually launched if the pilot operation goes well.”


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