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China to build second highway through Aksai Chin, claimed by India as part of Ladakh

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(TibetanReview.net, Jul21’22) – China plans to build a new highway close to its disputed occupied Tibet border areas with India, as part of efforts to strengthen its strategic position and project its power, reported the scmp.com Jul 20. According to thehindu.com Jul 21, the highway runs through Aksai Chin, a 38,000 sq km of land claimed by India as part of its Union Territory of Ladakh but controlled by China.

The highway, spanning from Lhunze County in Tibet to Mazha in Kashgar, Xinjiang region, is among 345 construction plans proposed in the new national programme, which aims to build a total of 461,000 km (286,400 miles) of highway and motorway by 2035, as China seeks to revive its faltering economy and boost consumer spending through infrastructure investment, the report said.

India has along accused China of raising tension over the border situation by continuing to carry out its massive infrastructure build ups.

Under the plan released last week, the highway known as G695 will run through southern Tibet’s Cona (Tibetan: Tsona) county – which lies immediately north of the disputed India-Tibet border demarcated by the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – Kamba county, host of a noted military camp, and Gyirong county near the border with Nepal.

It would also go through Burang (Purang) County between Tibet, Nepal and India as well as Zanda (Tsamda) County in Ngari prefecture, parts of which lie in India.

The report said that while details of the new construction remain unclear, the highway, when completed, may also go near hotly contested areas such as the Depsang Plains, Galwan Valley and Hot Springs on the LAC.

The G695 national expressway will be only the second national highway through the disputed Aksai Chin region, since China’s controversial construction of the G219 highway in the 1950s.

Although nearly uninhabitable and having no resources, Aksai Chin remains strategically important for China as it connects Tibet and Xinjiang.

During the 1950s, China built a 1,200 km road connecting Xinjiang and western Tibet, of which 179 km (112 mi) ran south of the Johnson Line through the Aksai Chin region. India did not learn of the existence of the road until 1957, which was confirmed when the road was shown in Chinese maps published in 1958.

In the latest round of military talks held on Jul 17, the two sides again failed to end their Ladakh border stand-off after over 12 hours of meeting, noted the scmp.com report.

China started massive infrastructure construction in Tibet, Xinjiang and other border areas as early as 1980s, even though many were of “less economic value compared to their strategic objectives”, Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of China studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has said.

However, over the past decade, it appeared to accelerate such efforts, with a steady push to upgrade some highways close to its border regions. “China intends to control far-flung areas for the swift movement of troops in case of any Soviet type of disintegration, or home-grown insurgency, or outside support,” he has said.

That includes highway G219, which originally linked Yecheng in Xinjiang to Tibet’s Lhatse. It is now being extended to connect its entire western and southern border from Kom-Kanas Mongolian ethnic township in Xinjiang to Guangxi’s Dongxing, next to Vietnam, through Tibet and Yunnan, including the disputed Aksai Chin, the report said.

Also, in 2016, China also started to upgrade G216 highway in Xinjiang and Tibet with a view to linking Hongzhanzui – a transit port in Altay, Xinjiang, at the border with Mongolia – with Gyirong (Kyirong) county in Tibet near Nepal’s border.

“This is also to prepare for ‘sinicisation’ of Tibet and Xinjiang, and prepare for the 15th Dalai Lama contingencies,” Kondapalli has said. “In addition, China also wants to expand outside into South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia through these infrastructure projects.”

Beijing has long believed transport infrastructure is essential not only for economic expansion and poverty alleviation but also for national security, the report noted.

India has been playing catch up with China in recent years. Both Beijing and Delhi have stepped up the building of their own border infrastructure over the past two years among their efforts to improve logistics capabilities along the LAC in the Himalayas, the report said.

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