THROUGH METOK, CHINA TUNNELS ITS WAY TO INDIA
Thursday, 05 December 2013 | Claude Arpi | in EditBeijing has been trying to set up transport connectivity to the remote Tibetan region, close to the McMahon line, for long. It has now succeeded, and with immense consequences for the defence of Arunachal Pradesh
A Chinese website affiliated with the official Xinhua news agency, China Tibet Online, recently gave what it calls ‘fast facts on controversial Arunachal Pradesh’: “The recent Indian President’s visit to the so-called Arunachal Pradesh has triggered the controversial discussion of border issue between China and India again”. Commenting on President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Arunachal, Xinhua said that Beijing ‘urged’ India “to refrain from moves that complicate boundary issues and work with China to create conditions for talks”. The claims and the counter-claims aside, an important aspect of the border dispute is the infrastructure development close to the McMahon Line. Here the Chinese are far in advance of India.
As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao landed in Delhi in December 2010, Xinhua dropped a bombshell: “The tunnel of highway linking Tibet’s Metok completed”. With Metok located just north of the McMahon Line, this development heralded one of the most important strategic changes for the defence of India’s north-eastern border.The enormity of the project was obvious; construction workers had taken some two years to complete the construction of the 3,310m Galongla tunnel, built at an altitude of 3,750m. It was the most difficult section of the highway which was to link Metok County to the mainland (and allow troops to come close to the Indian border in a much shorter time). The rain and the snow made the mountain roads impassable for nine months of the year, and the trek to cross the Galongla pass could take 10 hours or more: “The new road will dramatically shorten the time as the journey through the tunnel will take just half an hour,” announced Xinhua. At that time, some 90km of highway remained to be built. The Metok road is the symbol of China’s will to develop its border with India. With a population of just 11,000, it was not only China’s last county to have a highway, but the road is a crucial link to the area bordering the Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
For Tibetans, it has been one of the most sacred and pristine regions of their country; they consider Pemakoe, another name for Metok County, as the home of Goddess Dorjee Pagmo, Tibet’s Protecting Deity. Xinhua admits: “There is no other place in Tibet that gets so many titles as Metok, such as the ‘secret lotus’, ‘lonely island on the plateau’, ‘world’s wildlife museum’ and ‘rare animal gene pool’.”
But the Pemakoe is not an isolated paradise anymore. On October 31, China Tibet Online reported that the 117km Metok Highway had been opened to traffic. CNTV affirmed that the people in Metok country can now reach the highway linking their remote place to the nearby Bomi County by cars or buses; if the weather conditions are good, the journey takes hardly seven to eight hours. The Chinese correspondent added: “Getting out of Metok (Medog for the Chinese) used to be very dangerous, involving climbing two snow mountains 4,000 meters above sea level.” When the Bomi-Metok road joins the National Highway No 318 near Zhamog township, it has already crossed six rivers.Xinhua explained: “Great efforts have been made by the Government to build a highway to link Metok and Bomi counties since 1960s”.
Again, an attempt was made in 1974 and it failed. In 1980, a landslide occurred 106km away from the starting point; most of the newly-built road was devastated and many trucks and road-building equipment could not be rescued. The project was again abandoned. It re-started in 1990 and though in February1994, a kutcha road had been completed and vehicles managed to enter Metok, they never came back because of disastrous landslides and mudslides. A monument has even been built to commemorate China’s ‘shortest life’ road.
The road is even connected to Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’: “The opening of the highway to Metok is far more than a technological breakthrough… Above all, it is the Chinese dream fulfilled after several failed attempts over the past 50 years. The opening of the highway is bound to boost the socio-economic development of Metok”.One could, however, ask why so much effort? The answer is simple: The new road can be used by the People’s Liberation Army to reinforce the border with India. China Tibet Online quotes Agence France-Presse as saying that the new road has “touched a nerve in some of the so-called critics of Beijing’s rule in Tibet”; the latter believe that “infrastructure such as railways and airports enable immigration by the ethnic Han majority, exploitation of Tibet’s resources and consolidation of political control.”
This is an indisputable fact. An article in China Military Online published on September 11 said: “PLA sends materials to Metok, Tibet, by use of motorcades”, adding: “A motorcade regiment under the Sichuan-Tibet Military Service Station Department left for Metok county in the south-eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It admitted that it was the first time that the PLA had dispatched motorcades for delivering materials to Metok county.”Two months before the official opening of the road for civilian use, the Chinese army was already bringing supplies for the troops stationed near the Indian border in the Metok area. The PLA’s website acknowledges that earlier Metok had to “rely on horsebacks and occasional helilifts”. Director of the Sichuan-Tibet Military Service Station Department Pang Kuo told Xinhua: “It used to take the ‘hinny fleet’ more than two months to provide the yearly ration of staple and non-staple food for officers and men posted in Metok. Now it takes only one trip of the motorcade to supply enough materials the troops need for a whole winter”.
Xinhua may poetically say that “without doubt the Metok road is the road of wealth, the road of hope and the road of happiness. Local people will experience unprecedented convenience in their daily life; the culture, tourism and agriculture of Metok are bound to thrive due to this road” and that the highway “embodies the Chinese dream for the benefit of its people and reflects the mutual aspirations of all ethnic groups”. But the fact remains that the PLA will be the first beneficiary. India has to wake up.
Lately, the Chinese have become increasingly assertive (not to say aggressive). The latest example is when the Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. Beijing has taken a controversial and dangerous course, destabilising the region and upsetting its neighbours.In India, we still remember the events in April, when the People’s Liberation Army planted their tents in the Depsang Plain of Ladakh. Better be prepared!http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/ ... india.html