I often mentioned Yume (or Yumai or Yumed) the tiny hamlet, north of the McMahon Line (Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh), on this blog.
Since it was adopted by President Xi Jinping through a letter to two sisters living in Yume, yuans have been pouring. In fact, it is deluge.
Roads have come up, electricity and water supply are no more a problem, new houses have been built, not only for the 32 ‘original’ inhabitants, but also for the tourists who will soon arrive in the border village.
The Global Times (GT) reported earlier this week that China has built an unmanned ‘automatic’ weather station in Yume.
According to the tabloid, Beijing has set up a new observation station “to provide meteorological support to national defense.”
It is clear that the new station is not only for forecasting the weather for the tourists wanting to experience the life in the model village.
The GT explains: “The station in Yumai township under Lhunze [Lhuntse] county of Shannan [Lhoka] Prefecture in Tibet will eliminate a blind area of meteorological services.”
A ‘blind’ meteorological corner, located so close to the Indian border?!
Quoting a statement the Tibet Weather Bureau, the newspaper candidly admits: “It will also provide strong meteorological support for national defense and further promote border development as well as military-civilian integration.”
The idea to support ‘national defense’ and promote ‘military-civilian integration’ (sometimes called ‘fusion’) seems the main objectives of the project. The latter scheme, so dear to Xi, translates into dual-use of all infrastructure assets on the plateau, whether airports, roads, highways, OFC links, etc.
Tashi Norbu, a technician in charge of the station, told the mouthpiece of the Party: “The station can observe six factors, including air temperature, air pressure, wind speed, wind direction, humidity and precipitation, with more accuracy than before.”
All this does not have direct military applications, though meteorological data are always helpful when an airport is planned not faraway (in Lhuntse in this case).
Norbu frankly added: “Yumai is at the border. The station could provide data to help with transportation and communication in national defense. It could also offer support during regional live-fire conflicts.”
Therefore, it is not only for the nine households and 32 residents that the new infrastructure has come up.
The ‘New Era demo village for comfortable living on China’s border’, as Yume is known, is already bustling, commented the GT a few weeks ago.
The village has even a new Party chief, Dawa who looks after the public services (including water drainage, power, communications, roads, county government, medical clinic, schools,) and the new construction sites.
According to the GT, the project with a total investment of some 17.2 million US dollars, will take place on 440.98 square mu (72.65 acre) and a total construction area will be 17,254 sqm: ” In addition, there will be a central park and six plazas. The project is estimated to complete by October of 2018.” There is no doubt that the schedule will be kept.
The tabloid explained further that every year, Yume “has 260 days of snow and rain. Due to the extended rainfall period, highland barley is impossible to grow locally and the natural environment is challenging. Before the end of 2017, the township was snow-bound almost six months of the year. With snowy and narrow mountain roads, it took more than a dozen hours to cross Mt. Relha, and another eight kilometers to reach car transport. Every year, as it got closer to winter, the locals’ priority was always to store supplies for the season, and residents always had to store an entire winter’s worth of food and resources.”
Even before the weather station was publicized, Dawa had announced: “We are now receiving accurate information sent by meteorological departments every day. The station is necessary as it fills the gaps in meteorological and hydrological information, which could support our development.”
He then added that it would help a lot for the local pastures and for the road construction, before concluding: “more weather stations will be set up when the road is completed.”
He is talking of a new road to the border (Asaphila)?
Some articles speak of the Chuyul highway.
Song Zhongping, a military expert told the GT that weather is “an important factor that could influence the take-off and landing of aircraft and the launch of missiles during a battle. The small weather observation station could provide such information,” adding that “grasping accurate weather information could help seize good opportunities in the battles.”
According to Dawa: “Residents will enjoy better meteorological services to better safeguard every blade of grass and tree on the territory of the motherland.”
The set up of the station is definitively not innocent.
The case of Nagchu
Another place is also building weather stations on the plateau.
It is Nagchu (also written Nagqu). Here, the projected purpose is tourism development …and an airport.
In June, China Tibet News reported: “In recent years, Nagqu City has been vigorously implementing the government-led tourism development strategy. It aims to develop tourism into an economic leading industry and significant results have been made.”
The government website elaborated: “During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, combining the actual situation of local tourism development and with a total investment of 80 million yuan, Nagqu has declared 10 projects including 4 key tourism infrastructure projects and 6 rural tourism infrastructure construction projects. Nagqu vigorously promotes tourism propaganda,” adding “In addition, leading group for the evaluation of star hotels and star scenic spots and leading group for the creation of boutique scenic spots are established in Nagqu. Safety inspection work in the tourism industry is carried out and no travel safety accidents occur.”
Before starting these projects, weather stations were built.
The objective was clearly for getting data for the construction of the airport.
A strange case
The Nagchu Dagring Airport was announced in 2010.
It was supposed to be completed by 2014; it was to be the highest airport in the world at 4,436 m (14,554 ft), surpassing Chamdo Bangda Airport as the highest. Though the construction was said to have started in 2011, the airport was never built. This is a rare case of an announced project which has been temporarily abandoned.
The new weather stations in Nagchu are probably linked to the second coming of the airport.
Incidentally, Wang Yang, then a Vice Premier (now member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo) visited a meteorological station in Nagchu in 2015.
China Meteorological News Press said that Wang Yang investigated “relevant work including poverty alleviation and development, husbandry, tourist industry and meteorological services. He visited a meteorological station from Nagqu Prefecture located in a plateau region and extended regards to meteorological workers. He expressed respect to those who work in the remote areas, high mountain regions and islands and contribute to meteorological undertaking persistently, and extensive basic-level meteorological staffs.”
The article said: “The hardworking and plain-living spirit of plateau meteorological members also touched Vice Premier Wang Yang. Tibet took pride in advancements and achievements of meteorological cause, which impressed as well as inspired us.”
Wang would have declared: “The meteorological observation data of Tibet are crucial to weather forecasts and climate prediction for downstream regions since it lies on the upstream of weather system. As a result, to ramp up the research of meteorological science and technology along with climate change on the basis of Tibet’ own edges carries a significant implication.”
Why was the airport stopped in the first place?
One of the reasons was the serious law and order problems faced by Nagchu a few years ago; they have eased now, making the City more conducive to take up large infrastructure projects.
Another reason was that Nagchu was well-served by the train (it is the main hub, for military purpose too, of the railway line between Xining and Lhasa).
And finally, it was announced in 2015, “In a bid to tighten the safety of its airports, China will stop building airports higher than 4,411 meters above sea level in the next two years, as it is yet to work out a set of technology standards to build such airports.”
Li Jian, a deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) told the media three years ago, “Super-high plateau airports, namely those no less than 2,438 meters above sea level, face stricter safety challenges than their low altitude counterparts. There are no international technology standards for super-high plateau airports and it will take China two or three years to work out a set of standards. Before this, no plans will be approved.”
Not only altitude was a problem, but the weather too.
Three years have passed and the Nagchu airport will probably see the light in the coming years.
A Landing Ground in Yume?
One of the reasons for setting up a sophisticated weather station in Yume is probably the construction of an Advanced Landing Ground which would serve the border, particularly Asaphila, a border pass which is disputed by China and which has witnessed regular PLA’s intrusions in the past.
In 2014, Indian troops blocked PLA’s attempts to construct a road in the Asaphila area.
The Hindu then commented that “the incident, however, did not lead to a prolonged military face-off but it is a clear indication of the continuation of ongoing aggression between the two sides along the 4,057 km long LAC.”
More recently in April, it was reported that China lodged a strong protest against the Indian Army for transgression into Asaphila. India rejected the complaint.
According to PTI, “the Chinese raised the issue at a ‘Border Personnel Meeting’ (BPM) on March 15 here but the Indian Army dismissed it, saying that the area in the upper Subansiri region of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to India and it has regularly been carrying out patrols there.”
When the Chinese called India’s patrolling in the area a ‘transgression’, the Indian Army objected to the terminology.
Yume is not very far away. Weather station or more infrastructure means a reinforcement of the border in this area and probably more Chinese transgressions or intrusions.
There is no doubt that China wants to put more pressure in Asaphila-Takshing area, before the road from Limeking to Takshing is fully serviceable.