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The New Road and Hydropower Plant in Metok
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Claude Arpi | Date:04 Dec , 2020 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.

On October 13, an article appeared in the Chinese press which made me think that there was something big in the offing.

China Tibet News (in Chinese) reported that the Pai-Mo (Pe-Metok or Pai-Metok) Highway from Nyingchi to Metok would be opened on July 1, 2021. The travel time to Metok County would be shortened to 4.5 hours.

The Chinese website said: “On October 12, our reporter learned from the Huaneng Linzhi Hydropower Project Preparation Office that in order to effectively improve the current status of the transportation from Linzhi (Nyingchi) to Metok and to effectively improve the livelihood of the villages and towns along the route, the Pai-Metok Highway, planned to be completed on July 1, 2021.”

This immediately raised the question as to why a hydropower plant (HPP) company should build this road. One understands better now, that the construction of the HPP has been announced.

The mega hydropower project 

Less than two months later, The Global Times announced China’s plan to build a large hydropower project on the Yarlung Tsangpo River, which becomes the Siang and later the Brahmaputra in India.

The tabloid admitted that “it has raised concerns in India over potential political and ecological threats as the river passes through Southwest China, India and Bangladesh”, it however asserted that Chinese experts “refuted the claim that Chinese hydropower project have political aims, and said the project could help alleviate power shortage problem in northern India and boost regional economy.”

It is obviously propaganda.

The Metok County government confirmed that the project would be built in the County north of the McMahon Line. Other sources told The Global Time that “the project will be designed by the Chengdu Engineering Corp under the Power Construction Corp of China, or POWERCHINA. The Chengdu company is helping Metok to build the second highway entering the remote county, according to the company’s official website.”

It is highway project mentioned above.

The mouthpiece of the Party added: “The head of POWERCHINA suggested the planned hydropower station – which is expected to have three times as much generating capacity as the world-leading Three Gorges power station – aims to maintain water resources and domestic security.”

The new road is clearly linked with the mega HPP. 

The New Road

As for the new highway, the article quoted earlier spoke of total investment of about 2.015 billion yuan (US $ 330 millions): “The project will be completed by the end of September 2022. After the completion of the Pai-Metok Highway, the length of the road from Nyingchi City, through Bomi County to Metok County will be shortened from 346 kilometers to 180 kilometers and it will go through Jingpai Town; the driving time will be shortened from 11 hours to 4.5 hours. The traffic bottleneck in Metok will be greatly eased as well as the problem of difficulty in entering and leaving Metok.”

I mentioned the first route opening Metok to the world in 2013 on this blog.

Pai-Metok Highway will be constructed in four sections

The Highway starts in Pai Town in Mailing County and uses an extra-long tunnel to pass through the Doshong-la Mountain to a place called Songlinkou along the Doshong River, proceeding to Khanmi, Laohuzui and ending at the Jiefang Bridge in Metok County, a total length of 66.9 kilometers. It is difficult to locate these places, though Doshong-la is a well known pass in the area.

The construction is divided into four stages.

According to a responsible of the Huaneng Linzhi Hydropower Project Preparation Office, the Pai-Metok Highway is a major project sponsored by the Huaneng Group and a key livelihood project in Tibet. 

The website of the China Huaneng company says that the company “is committed to building itself into a large enterprise group with international competitiveness. By the end of 2016, the Company had total installed capacity of 165GW, with assets distributed all over China and overseas. The Company is also engaged in sectors of coal, finance, technology R&D, and transportation etc. that support the core business of power. The Company was the first Chinese power producer to join the ranks of Fortune 500 Companies, ranking 217th in 2016.”

Though very few have heard about the second route to Metok, it appears that the construction of the project started on August 29, 2014. 

The China Tibet News article explained: “This road passes through the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon and is built on the hiking route from Pai Township in Mailing County to Beibeng Township in Metok County. The road mainly follows uninhabited areas at “an altitude difference of more than 2,890 meters. The Pai-Metok is constructed in four sections: the first section starts at Pai Town and passes through the Doshong-la Mountain; the second section is from the exit of the Doshongla Tunnel and it proceeds to Gamajia; the third section is from Gamajia to Niqiao (Ani Bridge); the fourth section from Ani Bridge to Jiefang Bridge.”

The terminus is clearly Baibeng County (known as Drepung in Tibetan), close to the Indian border (Bishing in Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh).

There is no doubt that the highway will be used for the construction.

China Tibet News gave some details: “During the construction process, only after the first and fourth sections are completed, will the second and third sections starts, depending of the construction conditions; the Pai-Metok Highway will constructed from Pai Town to Beibeng Township in Medog County.” 

According to one of the persons responsible for the construction, the first section starting from Pai town is 13.615 kilometers long. The construction was started in August 2014. The 4,789-meter-long Doshungla Tunnel is the key project of this section. The construction started in December 2017, using a double-shield full-face hard rock tunneling machine (TBM).

The construction of the tunnel was completed at the end of 2018.

The second section

It runs from the exit of the Doshong-la Tunnel to Gamajia and it is 28.785 kilometers long; the construction started on November 10, 2018; on August 13, 2020, this section was finally completed. What remains to be finished are the drainage ditches, the culverts and the guard-rails;  this is scheduled to be completed by the end of December 2020.

The Third Section

The Gamajia Bridge-Ani Bridge section is 13.520 kilometers long. The construction started on October 15, 2019. It takes some 7.9 kilometers in the direction of Metok to reach the Laohuzui Tunnel which is being excavated. The tunnel itself with a length of 2,116 meters has started on May 1, 2020: “This section of the road passes through the Laohuzui cliffs and frequent geological disasters in the Grand Canyon, and the two-way construction conditions will be available after the second section is opened to traffic.”

The Laohuzui Tunnel is the main difficulty of this section: “Strive to complete the Laohuzui Tunnel in July 2021 and complete the project in April 2022,” said the website.

The Forth Section

The section of the highway between the Ani Bridge and the Jiefang Bridge has a total length of 10.82 kilometers. The construction started on May 28, 2016: “After being affected by many unfavorable factors such as heavy rainfall, mudslides, slope collapse, the road was opened on October 29, 2018, and completed by the end of June 2019.”

Using double shield TBM construction technology

The main construction projects of Pai-Metok Highway are the Doshongla Tunnel (completed) and Laohuzui Tunnel (under construction). The website admits: “The construction of this highway is difficult and takes a long time. It is mainly affected by geological disasters such as heavy rain during the flood season, ice and snow in winter, landslides, mudslides, and avalanches.”

We could ask here, what about the mega hydropower plant, planned by the new Emperor of China? It is bound to be far more difficult, if it is to produce thrice the power of the Three Gorges Dam.

According to the road contractor: “Compared with other road construction projects, this road is difficult to build, with many people participating in the construction, and it takes longer. Since the construction started on August 29, 2014, more than 500 builders have struggled on this road for more than 6 years. It is necessary to overcome the impact of weather and natural disasters, and to reduce the problems due to the natural environment. The construction of the project has also adopted many new technologies and techniques.” 

As mentioned, the Doshong-la tunnel sued a double shield tunnel boring machine (TBM). This technology was used for the first time in domestic road construction.

A Cascade of Hydropower Stations?

One can only presume, but the project will probably consist of a cascade of huge HPPs, each one evacuating the power produced towards the plateau …and the Mainland (if it is not used to push the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo towards Qinghai province and the Yellow River). This alternative has been worked into great details by Chinese engineer.

Present Conclusions

The article concluded by saying: “After completion, the Pai-Metok Highway will effectively increase the tourism promotion for the Grand Canyon and high-quality agricultural products (tea, matsutake [a highly sought mycorrhizal mushroom], [further] fully promote the rapid development of local tourism, commerce, agriculture and animal husbandry, and help Tibet to eliminate poverty and realize the self-sufficient economy. [The road] will make a positive contribution.”

It forgets to mention the mega hydropower station(s), with its tunnel(s) running parallel to the new highway. It seems sheared madness, in view of the fragility of the terrain and its high seismicity of the area.

The Emperor seems to have lost his mind.

For India, the first thing to do is to ask all the technical details of the HPP project to Beijing. 


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