Connecting Heavenly Tibet

Connecting Heavenly Tibet

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By Claud Arpi

Published in Indian Defence Review on 29 Nov 2016

The Tibetan plateau is witnessing a great deal of infrastructure development. This is not new, but the Chinese investments have taken much larger proportions in the recent weeks.

According to the website en.tibetol.cn, the Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has vowed to invest 543.1 billion yuan (88 billion US dollar) “to improve transportation conditions and promote the economic and social development during the 13th five-year period (2016-2020).”

What does it means?

Undoubtedly, it will bring tens of millions Chinese tourists on the plateau.

One hundred million soon?

The 12th Five-Year Plan

During the previous five-year period (2011-2015), 300 kilometers of high-level roads were built in the TAR while the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway started its operations in 2014; further 63 new airlines have been opened, linking 40 cities in China.

By the end of the current Plan (13th), the total mileage of highways in Tibet will reach 110,000 kilometers.

New Developments

On November 25, China Daily announced that “more than 20 new highways will be built in the TAR next year, with a total investment of more than 33 billion yuan (5 billion US dollar)”.

According to Ge Yutao, head of the TAR’s regional transportation authority, the new routes will include Lhasa to Nagchu; Derge to Chamdo; Chamdo to Jaka; Lhasa to Shigatse Airport; and Gongkar Airport to Tsethang, as well as the Nyima-Aso section of National Highway 317.

Ge added that 54 billion yuan (8.8 billon US dollar) from the TAR’s coffers will be spent on Tibet’s transport infrastructure during the current year: “The total length of roads has reached 82,000 kilometers, and it’s expected to reach 89,000 km next year. Next year, we will finish constructing 864 km of highways and 5,500 km of rural roads, and reconstruct 4,310 km of national and provincial trunk highways.”

Ge spoke during the recent TAR Congress in Lhasa.

The TAR plans to spend 15 billion yuan (2.4 billion US dollar) from the State resources and 40 billion yuan (6.5 billion US dollar) from bank loans to further improve Tibet’s transportation network next year.

It is not said who is guarantying the loans. Probably the Central Government as these investments will also be useful to ‘defend the borders’.

On November 15, while presenting the TAR’s ‘Work Report’ to the regional Congress, Wu Yingjie, the new TAR Party boss mentioned the improvements in road, rail and aviation networks planned for the next five years.

The second ‘Sky Road’

During the current Five-Year Plan, Tibet will particularly speed up the construction of its second ‘Sky Road’, the Sichuan-Tibet Railway.

The 1,838 km railway will run from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province to Lhasa. The first ‘Sky Road’ on the plateau was the Qinghai-Tibet Railway opened in July 2006, linking Golmund to Lhasa.

‘While the first section of the second ‘Sky Road, between Chengdu and Ya’an, began in 2014, the second part, from Lhasa to Nyingchi, started in 2014.

Wu affirmed that “The section inside Tibet is expected to be finished by 2020.”

He told the delegates to the Congress that the preliminary work on the Yunnan-Tibet Railway and flights between Ngari and Purang, in Ngari prefecture, will start in the next five years.

Incidentally, Purang is located near Mt Kailash, just north of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.

Wu added that “Tibet has plans to build airports in densely populated and developed cities and prefectures. The progress of an elaborate transportation system of highways, railways and air routes in the coming years will lay a foundation for Tibet to blend in with the Belt and Road Initiative. [One Road One Belt scheme]”

According to the TAR’s Work Report: “Tibet has witnessed rapid development in transportation construction in the past five years, with the total length of the highways increasing by 33 percent. In that time, the 300-km Lhasa-Nyingchi Highway was completed, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was expanded and the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway went fully operational.”

All this has brought millions of tourists from the Mainland to the plateau, with the consequences often mentioned on this blog.

Xu Ance, an engineer with Qinghai-Tibet Railway Co, told The China Daily: “Over the past 10 years, the number of tourists visiting Tibet has increased every year, while our passenger and cargo flow has grown annually, too,”

The railway line is being used for transporting basic goods, coal, cement and construction materials …and troops and military equipment.

The world’s highest tunnel 

The Chinese press reported that China completed the work on the world’s highest road tunnel, costing about US dollars 170 million on the Sichuan-Tibet highway.

The seven-km long tunnel, situated 6,168 metre above sea level (the tunnel or the mountain?), passes through the main peak of Chola Mountain. It shortens the time from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, to Nagchu in Tibet by two hours, and avoiding the most dangerous section on the highway.

The four-way lanes tunnel has been under construction since 2012. It will open to traffic next year.

The seven-km long tunnel has been built at a cost of 1.15 billion yuan (US dollar 170 million). It takes only takes 10 minutes to drive through. The highway will accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 vehicles a day, as compared with around 1,500 now.

Feasibility of Kangding to Nyingchi railway

According to China Tibet Online, the pre-feasibility study report of the Kangding to Nyingchi segment of the Sichuan-Tibet railway was ready by the end of October this year.

The China Railway Eryuan Engineering Co. Ltd asserted that it is the longest and toughest segment of the Sichuan-Tibet railway line. National Development and Reform Commission is planning to start the construction of this section in 2017. The expected construction time should be seven or eight years

The Sichuan-Tibet railway starting from Chengdu will serve Ya’an, Kangding, Chamdo, Nyingchi, Lhoka and Lhasa. The total length of the operation route will be 1,838 kilometers, out of which 1,738 kilometers of new track will be built. The total investment will reach be 216.6 billion yuan (35 billon US dollars).
It should shorten the traveling time from 43 hours and 7 minutes now to 13 hours while providing for ‘bidirectional rapid trains’ and inject “double momentum for Tibet’s economic development. Over five million people will benefit from this railway project,” according to one report.

Preliminary work of Yunnan-Tibet

The new Yunnan-Tibet Railway to Shangri-La and Dechen County of Yunnan province crossing to the TAR’s Markam and Zogang counties will connect with the Sichuan-Tibet Railway in Bamda Town. The line will be 415 kilometers long; 265-kilometer being in TAR. The total investment has been evaluated to 43.6 billion yuan (7 billion US dollar); the Tibet section alone will cost about 27.8 billion yuan (5 billion US dollar). The preliminary work for the alignment of the line has started. The main work will begin during the 14thFive-Year Plan period.

China Tibet Online says that the railway in Tibet “is gradually approaching perfection with the operation of Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Lhasa-Shigatse Railway as well as the construction of Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway. Since the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is put into operation, [in 2006] Tibet’s freight transportation has increased rapidly and it has become the main freight channel.”

And let us not forget, it also takes care of the PLA’s requirements.

The Chinese site added: “The construction of Yunnan-Tibet Railway will bring more convenient transportation conditions for the passenger and cargo circulation between TAR and Yunnan Province;” it concludes: “The Yunnan-Tibet Railway is a critical part of China Western Development, which is meaningful for the leapfrog development and long-term peace and order of Tibet.”

In other words it will be useful to control the restive Tibetans.

On October 31, Kangba TV announced, the opening ceremony of Baima (Pema?) Snow Mountain tunnel on the G214 national highway from Shangri-la to Dechen in Yunnan province.

Kangba TV said that the Shangri-la-Dechen secondary highway is extremely difficult to build “with the high altitude, the worst environment and the most complicated geological landscape in Yunnan Province.”

The project consists of three tunnels, all above 4,000m altitude. The length of the three tunnels totals 19,5 kms. The project started its construction in March 10, 2010 (incidentally, the Tibetan Uprising Day).

The Baima (Pema?) Snow Mountain tunnel should boost the local economy and help the transportation network in Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

In Amdo/Qinghai

In the north, in the Amdo province of Tibet, the construction of the Delingha-Xiangride Highway has been completed; the road is 176.48 km long. The 72.75 km-long Ebao-Qilian Highway is also in operation.

The Delingha-Xiangride Highway is a special one.

Historically, Delingha has been the launching sites for many Chinese ballistic missiles. Located in the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, the project’s ending point will be connected with the planned Beijing-Tibet Highway (G6), and to the beginning of the Xiangride- Huashixia Highway.

It has a complex geographical environment, crossing the Gobi Desert, salt-marsh, and water meadows.

According to the Chinese media: “It will create a combined transportation network featuring the Beijing-Tibet Highway (G6), National Road 214, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and the Qinghai-Xinjiang Railway.”

This expansion is part of the national highway project linking Delingha to Maerkang in Sichuan (G0615). The entire highway will be built to the latest standards and will be designed for vehicles to run at a speed at 100 km/hr.
In the Qilian County, the Ebao-Qilian Highway starts from Ebao Town. It connects to National Highway 227 as well as the Zhangye-Henan Highway, ending up in Qilian County. The road further connects to Provincial Road 204 and the planned Qilian-Chamdo Highway.

Other developments

China Tibet News reported that at the beginning of 2016, all cities in China’s have access to the fiber-optic broadband. During the current Five-Year period, China Telecom will promote the development of basic information resources, making the fiber-optic broadband faster: “Internet will integrate with more traditional industries, accelerating the construction of broadband Tibet, intelligent city, intelligent industry and intelligent family. It also makes the poverty alleviation work more efficient.”

The website says that there are 82 mobile phones and 11 fixed phones for every 100 people in China’s Tibet. The Internet penetration rate reaches 60 percent: “Internet not only improves Tibetan people’s livelihood but also shortens the distance between Tibet and the outside world. As Internet integrates with traditional industries such as tourism and agriculture, work efficiency gets great improvement.”

It cites the Qionglin Village in Nanyi Township of Menling County, Nyingchi (north of Aurunachal Pradesh). It has been provide fiber-optic broadband connection by China Mobile. Out of 47 households in the village, 40 have access to broadband and Wifi access is available in the village.
The same website says that “during  the 12th Five-Year Plan period, China’s Tibet built 3,000 rural comprehensive information service stations, covering 57 percent of administrative villages and 62 percent of farmers and herdsmen.”
Tibet branch of China Mobile has invested 14.29 billion yuan (about 2.14 billion U.S. dollar) and built 12,600 base stations: “long distance optical cable reached 51,900 sheet km. In Tibet, there are already 4,440 administrative villages that have access to mobile Internet, with the coverage rate of 84 percent. 693 towns and more than 4,000 administrative villages are connected to optical fiber cable, lying a solid foundation for the proliferation of optical fiber cable in all farming and pastoral areas.”

It speaks of ‘Heavenly Tibet’: “an intelligent tourist product, providing tourists with one-stop information service encompassing eating, accommodation, traffic, traveling, shopping and entertainment. It is the same as the newfangled online tourism service.”

The Nyingchi Prefecture has invested 1.33 million yuan (about 199,445 U.S. dollars), to develop the ‘transparent kitchen’ which is a food safety monitoring project integrated with the Internet: “Currently, 25 school cafeterias and hotels have been monitored by this system. Besides, more than 400 restaurants will be put into this item.”

The Disneyland of Snows will become a cool connected place, but it may lose its soul in the process.

Lamas in their mountain caves were also ‘connected’, but in a different way.