IntroductionKnown buffer zone for the Communists and the Guomindangs.

IntroductionKnown as the “Roof of the World”, Tibet needs no special introduction. It has long been known to the world as a forbidden land fortified by snow mountains, but with the setting up of the Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1955, after the controversial ‘liberation’ and incorporation of Tibet into PRC, Tibet Autonomous Region was established in 1965. Controlling theTAR remains crucial to China for enhancing its security on the western frontier.The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Xizang Autonomous Region (Hsi-tsang Tzu-chic-ch’u) is a province-level autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It is the second-largest province-level division of China by area but the least densely populated province-level division of the country due to its harsh and rugged terrain.  The modern name of Tibet is derived from the Mongolian “Thubet”, Chinese “Tufan”, Thai “Thibet”, and Arabic “Tubbat”.Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is bordered by the Chinese provinces of Qinghai to the northeast, Sichuan to the east, Yunnan to the southeast, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to the northwest. It shares international borders with Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal to the south; and the Kashmir region (India) to the west.Lhasa is the capital of TAR with an area of 11,303 sq mi and Xigaze (also known as Shigatse or Rikaze) is the largest city of TAR with an area of 70,271 sq mi.TAR has 5 prefecture-level cities, 2 prefectures, 6 districts, 68 counties and 692 townships.With a total population of 3,002,166 (2010), 90% are the Tibetans, with Han Chinese, Hui Chinese Muslims, Monba and others as the minority nationalities.Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are the official languages.Majority of the population follows Tibetan Buddhism, followed by Bon which is considered to be the first known religion in Tibet in the form of shamanism. The Han Chinese practices their native Chinese folk religion, whereas Islam and Christianity are the minority religions.Major rivers : Sengge Zangbo “Lion Spring” (in Chinese Shiquan He), Langqen Kanbab “Elephant Spring”, Majba Zangbo river, Damqog Kanbab or Maquan river “Horse Spring”.Largest lakes: Lake Dangre Yong, Lake Nam and Lake Siling in the northwest of Lhasa; Lake Yamzho Yun and Lake Puma Yung in the south of Lhasa; Lake Mapam and Lake La’nga near the Nepal border. Historical BackgroundThe era following World War II witnessed the independence of many colonized countries. Caught in the middle, Tibet became a crucial buffer zone for the Communists and the Guomindangs. The country thus found itself locked in a complicated power triangle between India, Great Britain, and China (Guomindang-led government). Although the British had already withdrawn from India, India still retained a British representative to Tibet: Hugh Richardson. Recognizing the political clout gained from having the British as an ally, Tibet encouraged relations with India as a neighbor. Initially Tibet functioned as a de facto independent government until 1951. Tibet even participated in the Shimla Conference of 1913-1914 with British India and Chinese representatives over the status of Tibet and the McMahon Line (India-Tibet frontier). However, China refused to neither ratify the demarcated border nor recognize Tibet as an independent country.In 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party founded the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong, Chinese nationalism rose to unprecedented levels.  On 2nd September 1949, the Chinese government heralded the “liberation” of Tibet and declared:”The Chinese People’s Liberation Army must liberate the whole territory of China, including Tibet, Xinjiang and so forth. Even an inch of Chinese land will not be permitted to be left outside the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China. We tolerate no longer the aggression of the foreign countries (Britain or India). This is the unchangeable policy of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.”In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army marched into Tibet, defeated the Tibetan local army and took control of the region. In 1951 realizing its weakened status, the Tibetan representatives signed a Seventeen-Point Plan for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet with the Chinese government affirming China’s sovereignty over Tibet.”Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the motherland—the People’s Republic of China.. Tibetan people have the right of exercising national regional autonomy under the unified leadership of the Central People’s Government.”Although the 17-point agreement provided for an autonomous administration led by the Dalai Lama, however a Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet (PCART) was established in 1955 to exclude the Dalai Lama’s government. By 1959, the Dalai Lama took political asylum in India. Tibet Autonomous Region was then established in 1965, about 5 years after the dismissal of the Kashag (the Council) by the PRC following the 1959 Tibetan uprising, and about 13 years from Tibet’s incorporation into the PRC in 1951. Tibet under Mao’s ruleFrom 1950s onwards, the Chinese became aware of the strategic importance of Tibet. It was in the 1950s that China coined the present standard designation of Tibet ie., Zhongguo de yi bufen (one part of China), thereby affirming that Tibet was within the PRC. The road-building in Tibet continued for over 20 years. By 1976, China’s basic strategic requirements got completed. Thus, the most spectacular aspect of development in Tibet from 1951 to the present has been strategic or military.First five- year plan (1953-1957), China spent US $ 4,232 million on transportation and communications, which constituted 11.7 per cent of the total development expenditure.By 1965, 2 highways effectively linked Lhasa with interior China. By 1975, China had completed 91 highways with 300 permanent bridges in Outer Tibet.From 1950-99, the Chinese Government spent over Yuan 40 billion on construction activities and financial subsidies for Tibet.However, the Communist government under Mao’s rule began to discourage widespread practice of Tibetan Buddhism. They also reworked the Tibetan system of agriculture into a series of collective farms and ordered Tibetan farmers to grow wheat and rice instead of barley. The ill-planned reorganization of the Tibetan agricultural system coupled with the surge in population from migrating Han Chinese resulted in a devastating famine that lasted for many years.Also in 1966-1967, the Chinese position in Tibet was shaken by the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. In 1971, a new local government committee was announced. Between 1963 and 1971, no foreign visitor was allowed. Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and OpeningWith Deng Xiaoping coming into power after Mao’s demise in 1976, a new period of reforms began in Tibet. Also in 1980, the Chinese government expressed its willingness to allow the Dalai Lama to return to the “Motherland” ie., China but not Tibet although refused to acknowledge the need for any political negotiations. Tibet opened up and began economic relations (trade) with Nepal and other neighboring areas.Monasteries were reopened and restored. Religious restrictions on pilgrimages and worship were relaxed.The Chinese government also encouraged tourism and Tibet was opened up to independent travel. The number of visitors soared exponentially reaching 44,000 tourists per year by 1987.Yet again, tensions escalated when the Chinese government criticized Dalai Lama for calling for a resolution on the Tibet issue in his speech while addressing the United States Congressional Human Rights Caucus on 21st September 1987. By 1989, Tibet was close down for the outer world as China responded violently to protests in Lhasa and declared martial law.Hu Jintao’s administrationUnder Hu Jintao’s dictum of “going down the road of development with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan flavour” (Zhongguo tese, xizang tedian), areas of focus includes infrastructure, tourism, mining and manufacturing. At the 2010 Politburo meeting, Hu Jintao heralded two goals for the TAR during the course of deliberations:Seeking a breakthrough-style (economic) development;Maintaining long-term stability.Emphasizing the infrastructural development in the TAR as a national security strategy, Hu Jintao stated, “Rapid economic development is the fundamental condition for realizing the interests of all ethnic groups in Tibet and also the basic guarantee for greater ethnic unity and continued stability there.”The bulk of the new infrastructure projects in the TAR have also led to increase in Han Chinese migration.The TAR’s biggest logistics centre was completed in June 2009. The logistics centre is located next to a railway station at Nagqu County in northern Tibet.The Qinghai-Tibet Railway or Qingzang Railway which connects Xining, Qinchai province to Lhasa (TAR) became functional on 1st May 2006 becoming Tibet’s maiden railway line connecting and integrating the Tibetan plateau with the rest of China. It is also believed to have played a great role in boosting the region’s development.Accentuating the potential of the Golmud-Lhasa rail link, work on Tibet’s largest logistics centre to handle freight for the railway line was completed in June 2009.Tibet has been the largest per capita recipient of subsidy and funding from the central government of PRC. On the TAR’s 20th anniversary, the government spent US $78.2 million on 43 projects; on the TAR’s 30th anniversary, it spent US $720.1 million on 62 projects; and on the TAR’s 40th anniversary, it spent US $1 billion on 24 projects. Most of the funds came under the “Western Development Programme”.The GDP of the TAR grew at 14% in 2007, much more than China’s average. This rapid growth rate is attributed to readjustment of the existing and introduction of heavy industries investments by the central government in infrastructure and reforms in state-owned enterprises and government organizations.The Chinese government not only undertook certain development projects like road, rail and air network; Fuel, Oil and Lubricants (FOL); pipelines and communications; but also announced a US $40 million project for restoration of the sacred buildings in Tibet.Recent Developments in Xi Jinping’s eraRoad NetworksThe rapid build-up of China’s national road system has greatly enhanced the PLA’s land-based transport capabilities. China has developed a network of internal highways and subsidiary roads in TAR to connect all strategic and important places on the borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. During the Eighth Five-Year Plan, more than 50 national highways were built or renovated to military standards, including three roads leading into Tibet. It has developed 58,000 km of road network in Tibet alone. Presently, 80% of Tibet’s townships and nearly 20% of villages are accessible by highways.Qinghai-Tibet Highway (Central Highway)Running from Xining in Qinghai to Lhasa in Tibet, this highway is often referred to as the ‘lifeline’ of the TAR. The 2,122-km highway carries more than 80% of cargo and 90% of passengers into-or-out of Tibet. It is paved with asphalt and crosses the Kunlun and Tanggula mountain ranges.Lhasa-Kashgar / Aksai Chin / Xinjiang Highway (Western Highway) Connects Xinjiang to Tibet by linking Kashgar and Lhasa. From Quilanaldi, the road branches off to Khunjerab Pass and subsequently becomes the Karakoram Highway right upto Gilgit.Sichuan-Tibet Highway (Eastern Highway)This highway between Chengdu (Sichuan) and Linzhi (Ngiti) is 1,715 km long (2,413 km up to Lhasa). The Chinese government had earmarked US $829.6 million for improving the 573 km stretch of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway along with six regional highways and the 3,000 km road leading to local counties and villages among other highway projects.Yunnan-Tibet HighwayThis 716 km long highway branches off from the Eastern Highway and is prone to frequent landslides and disruptions during the winter and monsoon season. This highway holds special significance in military terms for India, owing to the build-up of the PLA opposite India’s eastern theatre, given China’s logistics capacity-building and accelerated facilitation of men and material in the critical sectors of the northern and eastern borders.Two highway bridges over Lhasa and Yarlung Tsangpo rivers and a 2.4 km long tunnel costing US $101.7 million are also underway.Lhasa-Lhoka (Shannon) Express Highway project started on August 2016.Rongme-Ngatra tunnel also recently opened for traffic.Tibet-Nepal Road delayed by 2015 earthquake was reopened for foreign travelers on August 2017. Overall, within Tibet the Chinese government’s focus seems to be on construction of inter-provincial highways which link the interior and coastal regions. All of these are being build for military specifications which will enable PLA to use in case of a war.Logistic DevelopmentsThe “Go West” campaign aims to make the western region of PRC as an “incubator for skilled manpower” and a “hotspot for foreign investments”. The justifications for the western development policy are economic, political and social. The “Go West” campaign includes giving fiscal incentives and sending Han Chinese graduates to Tibet. Due to this, there is a rising tide of Han Chinese migrants flooding into Tibet changing the demographics of the region. In an attempt to resolve the issue, a decision was taken to make the Mandarin language as the medium of instruction in schools.Chinese logistical capabilities in Tibet received a big boost when the biggest logistic centre in the TAR was completed in June 2009. It is located in Nagqu County in northern Tibet, next to a railway station at an altitude of 4,500 meters. Since the centre is situated about 300 km northeast of Lhasa, this project is expected to further exploit the potential of the QTR and boost the region’s economic development. Construction of this logistics centre cost China approximately US $ 220 million.The demand for rail capacity is greater than the supply roughly 160,000 carloads per day are needed. Thus, the improvement of rail infrastructure continues to remain a top priority in PRC’s “Go West” campaign. The construction of the Lhasa Railway Oil Terminal Project began on 8th June 2010. The project is expected to finish construction and begin operations by the early 2011. It is also expected to secure an adequate supply of refined oil products in Tibet, reduce transportation costs, relieve the pressure of oil products transportation and make full use of the advantages of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR).The Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR)The Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR) became functional on 1st May 2006. Inaugurated by the Chinese President Hu Jintao, the 1142 km Qinghai-Tibet railway line from Golmud in Qinghai province to Lhasa in Tibet became fully operational on 1st July 2006.  The QTR is the latest manifestation of China’s resolve to consolidate its hold on Tibet, along with other channels of logistics infrastructure build-up in the region. The highest point of the QTR comes in at the 5072 metres Tanggula Pass in the Kunlun mountain range. The completion of the railroad would not have been possible without US General Electric’s diesel engines and Canada’s Bombardier.IT Infrastructure and CommunicationChina has now extended its Advanced Info-Optical Network (CAINONET) project to Tibet as well. The plan to connect all cities and counties of the TAR by 2005 which seems to have been successful as the Chinese reported laid a fibre optic network in all the 55 counties of TAR. A total of 1100 km of optical fibre cable (OFC) was laid, connecting Lhasa with Nyingchi and Qamdo counties in the east TAR. The total number of fixed telephones in the TAR has now reached 150,000 with a mobile phone capacity of 85 channels. Similarly, the number of mobile phone users has reached a figure of 113,000. 3G mobile service is also now available in the TAR. The Sichuan-Tibet Power Interconnection Project was recently put into operation in 2017.Air InfrastructureThere are 5 operational airfields inside Tibet (TAR) and 15 surrounding it. The main airfields within the region include: Gongar, Hoping, Pangta, Linchi and Gar Gunsa.The construction of Nymgtri airport (Linzhi) located in the southeastern TAR was one of the key projects completed in the Tenth Five Year Plan. Construction of an airfield at Bayixincun in central TAR was also being pursued.The newly-built runway of Chamdo Bangda Airport was officially put into use “ushering in a new period of rapid growth” on 28th October 2017.Xigaze airport is Tibet’s key construction project of the 11th Five-Year Plan constructed at the cost of approximately 532 million Yuan.The reconstruction project of the highway from Shigatse Peace Airport to Shigatse City has begun on the fall of 2017.The Chinese Press also reported the construction of the ‘world’s highest airport’ in Tibet’s Nagqu Prefecture, which is being budgeted under the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011 to 2015). The Nagqu Dagring Airport is scheduled for completion in 2014. Significantly, the establishment of the TAR International Airline is presently under consideration. China will also launch Tibet Airlines with a registered capital of US $ 41.2 million and 20 aircrafts. The airline will be the first Chinese airline to be based in the TAR.As per the Chinese statistics, the increasing tourism in TAR has led to an annual increase of 20% in air traffic in the recent years. These have led to an increase in civil air traffic of TAR which will progressively enhance PLA’s air induction capability into TAR by utilizing the available civilian aircrafts.Construction of new airfields and the upgradation of Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) and helipads in and around the TAR are likely to enhance China’s strategic airlift capability as well. The functional international standard airfields in the TAR ie., Gongar, Pangta and Nyngchi would give the Chinese a considerable strategic airlift and logistics advantage. Also, the airfields on the periphery of the TAR can be activated to provide additional logistic and operational support.The reconstruction and extension of Lhasa-Kongkar Airport was scheduled to start in July 2017. The highway between the airport and Tsetang will be upgraded and expected to open by June 2017.OthersTibet’s representation in the 19th Party Congress 2017.The great game over Arunachal Pradesh: promoting Ziro as a part of Southern Tibet and local Apatanis as a Chinese tribe.Lhasa Transport Industry Group which is Tibet’s largest passenger road transport company talked about the opening of direct routes/packages to scenic spots in Tibet on May 2017. According to the Group, 9 regional and 6 inter-provincial tourist routes will be launched by the company in the next 3 years.Banning foreign tourists to travel to Tibet from 18th-28th October 2017 as the 19th Party Congress approached near.Demonstration of force on 26th September 2017 when TAR held the 9th Regional Congress in Lhasa.Plans on a new project of railroad-building linking Southern Tibet to Nepal through 3 railway lines- Lumbini, Pokhara and Kathmandu in Nepal upto Kerung in TAR.ConclusionChina has created world class infrastructure on the region, in terms of highways, rail links, airports, logistic installations and oil pipelines which has both civilian and military usage. No doubt the over-reaching Chinese military, security and economic ambitions have ensured the transformation of once buffer state of Tibet into another Chinese province where infrastructure clearly exceeds the current demographic and security requirements.China’s sustained territorial control over Tibet is today supported by massive infrastructure improvements and an enhanced security presence in the entire region. Tibet has been truly transformed from a remote mountain kingdom into a land criss-crossed by high-speed trains and wide highways. To some extent, the Chinese government has succeeded to display its power with the card of sovereignty. China sets an ideal example for Sun Tzu’s classic maxim:”For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill … to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”But this very positioning of Chinese power draws an upper edge against the Indian counterparts. China’s massive infrastructure build-up in Tibet is causing concern to the Government of India. Therefore it is in the Indian interest to upgrade the logistics infrastructure of the states bordering Tibet. India should enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to maintain all-round vigil on the border. BibliographyShakabpa, Tsepon W. D. Tibet: A Political History. Paljor Publications. 2010.Chansoria, Monika. China’s Infrastructure Development in Tibet: Evaluating Trendlines. Centre for Land Warfare Studies. KW Publishers Pvt. Ltd New Delhi. 2011.Arya, Shailendra. Infrastructure Development and Chinese War Waging Capabilities in Tibet. Defense Studies Book, Vol. 5, No. 3, July. 2011.China’s Strategic Posture in Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Response. Vivekananda International Foundation. 2012. Culture Clash: Tourism in Tibet. Tibet Watch Thematic Report. October 2014. 


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