By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2016-10-12
Tibet is an important part of the China-initiated "One Belt and One Road" initiative. Geographically, as a hub of critical value in connecting China and South Asia, the autonomous region is playing an increasingly important role in regional networks with the acceleration of India`s development and the boosting of Sino-Indian economic relations.
Over 200 kilometers northeast of Bhairawa, a Nepali city close to the border with India, is Nepal`s capital Kathmandu. 100 kilometers northward from Kathmandu is Kodari, a border crossing from Nepal into China. The three cities make up one of the most important passageways connecting China and the Indian Subcontinent.
The other side of the border from Kodari is Zhangmu, a Chinese customs town and port of entry. The town accounts for around 82 percent of bilateral trade between China and Nepal and 90 percent of that between Tibet and Nepal.
Despite terrible road conditions, on average more than 200 trucks fully loaded with cargo head for Nepal from the town every day.
In the first quarter this year, the trade volume passing through Zhangmu reached 1.621 billion yuan ($241.3 million), accounting for 87.43 percent of the total import-export value of Tibet. Nonetheless, it still lags behind the border crossing between China and Vietnam.
I visited Pingxiang, the city closest to the China-Vietnam border in China`s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region recently. The total trade volume of Pingxiang exceeded $10 billion last year. The city has overtaken Manzhouli, a land port in Inner Mongolia, as the biggest port for small-scale border trade.
Although Nepal`s situation is different from that of Vietnam, it has huge market demand. It`s located among India, Bangladesh and the northwestern region of Myanmar, where development is direly needed. The region harbors great potential.
Currently, China is extending the Lhasa-Shigatse railway to reach to Gyirong county. The project is expected to be completed in 2020. By this design, connection between Kathmandu and Gyirong through railways can be achieved by 2025 as the former is merely dozens of kilometers away from the latter.
India and Nepal are linked by comparatively good roads. For years, India has occupied 60 to 70 percent of Nepal`s total trade while China has only 10 percent. During his latest visit to India, Nepal`s new Prime Minister Prachanda revealed that the two countries would discuss the possibility of India helping build a railway connecting Mechi and Mahakali. If this comes true, a network not only connecting India, but also Tibet and Bangladesh will be formed.
The competition of China and India over building railways in Nepal will influence the future development of Nepal and Bangladesh. It will also bring more challenges to Tibet.
In the next decade, if India continues on its high growth track and speeds up the development of infrastructure and manufacturing, this will impose multi-dimensional pressure on China, of which Tibet will bear the brunt. Fortunately, as the central government has attached great importance and offered considerable support to the region, Tibet has gained the upper hand over India in terms of infrastructure development and has established sound economic cooperation relations with neighboring provinces and cities.
How to further open up the autonomous region, exploit its advantages over India to deal with challenges and exercise an influence over the region while maintaining Tibet`s stability needs policy support. It also requires coordination among all western provinces, cities and autonomous regions.
The author a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.