By Liu Zongyi Source: Global Times Published: 2017-7-23
A number of provinces and cities are eager to be involved in the "Belt and Road"(B&R) initiative, including Southwest China`s Tibet Autonomous Region. The opening-up of Tibet is in line with the general trend, but due to some historical and geopolitical factors, it has had to face some special challenges involving international strategy and security in the process of its development.
First, India`s attitude toward the B&R is not conducive to Tibet`s involvement in the initiative. Among countries and regions along the route of the B&R, India is the only large economy that has yet to express public support for the initiative. Given this situation, India is unlikely to consider building a railway linking it to the autonomous region.
Second, Sino-Indian border trade is underdeveloped, which is a serious barrier to developing Tibet`s trade. More than 90 percent of trade between India and the autonomous region, which border one another, passes through the port of Tianjin in North China, which is 4,400 kilometers away.
Third, Nepal`s internal politics may thwart the interconnection of the two countries` infrastructure. In contrast to what Indian media outlets have reported, Nepal does have an interest in China`s B&R initiative, but the Himalayan country has misgivings about ramping up efforts to carry out the agreement reached by its former prime minister, KP Sharma Oli, who had a pro-China stance. He agreed to speed up the interconnection and strengthen cooperation with China, but this process may be held up due to India`s attitude toward the B&R.
With economic integration between Tibet and the rest of China a major way for the region to play a more active role in the B&R initiative, China should create a favorable international environment for itself to speed up the interconnection with South Asian countries and make Tibet a bridgehead for that process.
First, Tibet could continue to improve its infrastructure, including roads, telecom facilities and land border ports.
Second, while setting the stage for strategic interaction with India, China should focus on cooperation with the state governments of India and major companies there. These parties are always significantly less interested in geopolitics than national governments. There is a strong desire among state governments in India to promote local economic development, while heads of local government departments care about their individual political careers relating to economic growth.
Many investment promotion delegations led by chief ministers of Indian states have visited China to attract investment, and these events offer a shortcut for the B&R initiative to establish a presence in India. China needs to strengthen cooperation with state governments in northeast India such as Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Third, China should become a dependable friend of Nepal. Although political uncertainty persists, Nepal is the best option for Tibet`s opening-up and interconnection with the outside. Since the early 1990s, "striking a balance" has been a principle of the foreign policy pursued by Nepal, on the basis of a rise in nationalism and anti-India sentiment.
Events such as an undeclared economic blockade by India, which led to shortages of fuel, medicine and other supplies in Nepal, have led most Nepali people to abandon their illusions about India. Although India maintains a considerable presence in Nepal, this does not necessarily mean that the smaller nation is unwilling to change the status quo, although its internal political disputes diminish its solidarity. China has no intention of competing with India in Nepal; rather, what China hopes to achieve is that Nepal and other neighboring countries can get a free ride on China`s economic rise.
China hopes that Nepal can serve as a bridge to India, which means that China needs to speed up interconnection with Nepal first. China should strengthen cooperation with Nepal in terms of the economy and infrastructure, and enhance political and cultural exchanges.
Fourth, we must optimize local industries in Tibet to make it an important node for the B&R initiative. We should take the opportunity to promote specialized industry development, focus on improving the environment and pursue natural and cultural heritage protection.
In addition, as Tibet is close to South Asia, we may also make full use of the unique advantages of Tibet in geography and humanities to boost the local financial industry.
Finally, in participation in the B&R initiative, Tibet must pay attention to connections to people in surrounding countries and regions.
The author is a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.