“Tibet is changing from being a barrier to a region linking China and India together,” Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo has said.

Mr. Yeo, who visited Tibet last month, said in a recent article that economically, there was much to be gained by improving road and rail links between Tibet and South Asia.”

“Indeed, the Chinese have suggested that Lhasa and Calcutta [Kolkata] be linked by rail,” Mr. Yeo emphasised. In his view, however, “the Indian government is understandably apprehensive about moving too quickly.”

Seeing the issue in a contemporary perspective, Mr. Yeo wrote: “Scars of the 1962 War are still raw in India. When the Indian Army moved to liberate Bangladesh in December 1971, an important factor it considered was the winter snow preventing the Chinese Army from interfering through the mountain passes. Thus, the reopening of the 4,400-metre-high Nathu La Pass in July 2006 was politically significant. As part of it, China recognised India’s ownership of Sikkim. Hundreds of kilometres of fibre optic cables have been laid in the past year from Yadong in Tibet to Siliguri in West Bengal with an initial capacity of 20 gigabytes per second.”

The rapid growth of China-India trade in the past 10 years and the emergence of China as India’s biggest trading partner marked just “the beginning” of new economic linkages between the two Asian neighbours. “Common economic interests are driving the two countries into closer political cooperation, both bilaterally and internationally.”

In this emerging China-India economic context, “Tibet is both an opportunity and an issue.” According to Mr. Yeo, “the economic opportunity is obvious, but rapid development has brought about great stress to the Tibetan way of life, [and] this complicates bilateral relations between China and India.”

Yet, “Tibet is [also] part of a much larger Asian drama that is changing the world.” China and India “will supply much of the talent for global development in this century,” and how they “relate to each other in the coming decades will affect everyone,” Mr. Yeo wrote.

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