China calls for closer ties between Tibet and Sikkim

The Chumbi valley is the gateway of two major passes — Jelep La and Nathu La.

June 25, 2015 03:24 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 04:58 pm IST - LHASA

A view of Yam Dro Yum Tso lake near Lhasa. Photo: Atul Aneja

A view of Yam Dro Yum Tso lake near Lhasa. Photo: Atul Aneja

China has signaled that the opening of the new route for the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage through the Nathu La pass is likely to lead to stronger economic and cultural ties between Tibet and Sikkim.

“When I spoke to the chief minister of Sikkim (Pawan Chamling), he told me that it is only 54 kms from Gangtok to Nathu La. The road there is not bad,” said Le Yucheng, China’s ambassador to India, during a conversation with a section of the China-based Indian media.

The ambassador pointed out that Sikkim is looking forward to welcome Chinese tourists, businesses and investments. “Sikkim is the closest state to China. Why not (develop) tourism? Why not trade? Why not investment? Why not environment protection because chief minister of Sikkim is known as the ‘green’ chief minister. We also now have the strategy on environment protection,” observed the ambassador.

Analysts however point out that the pulls and pressures of hard economics and security concerns are likely to determine the expansion of connectivity between the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China and Sikkim.

Chinese concerns about the relatively unrestricted flow of Tibetans into India, and New Delhi’s security unease about the Chumbi valley, are likely to emerge as focal points of a Sino-Indian dialogue. The Chumbi valley is the gateway of two major passes — Jelep La and Nathu La. It also juts out as an inverted triangle, on the tri-junction of Bhutan, China and India, terminating in close proximity of the Siliguri corridor—the narrow passage that connects the North-East with the rest of India.

“They (the Sikkim government) are expecting Chinese tourists, expecting Chinese businesses, expecting Chinese investments. I think all these issues will be discussed in the years to come at the local l and the central level,” Mr. Le observed.

In his conversation with the media at Yadong—the town that was used in 1904 by the British expeditionary force to Tibet— the ambassador said that border trade through Nathu La was now booming.    “He (Mr.Chamling) told me that this year especially, the Chinese trade mart is very busy. From our side also from the discussions I had with the local government, I have been told that the trade mart is booming.

Many people are appealing to increase the items of trade; right not there are only 15 items, we need to double that.” Sherethang on the Indian side, and Renchen Qiang on the Chinese soil, are the two border trade marts, which conducted business worth around Rs.17 crores last year.

While the Indian side of the road from Nathu La to Sikkim may need attention, connectivity to the border is well established by the highway that links Lhasa to Yadong. It takes less than eight hours to cover the around 500 kilometer distance, which passes through stunning landscape of the high, but mostly flat Tibetan plateau, before Yadong is approached.

The Kamba La pass, at a dizzying height of 16000 feet connects Lhasa with the TAR’s Shannan prefecture. This district is known for its turquoise blue Yam Dro Yum Tso lake, an emblematic point of reference in the Buddhist religious calendar. Further ahead lies the TAR-Bhutan junction, before the road descends steeply towards Yadong, on the base of the Nathu la pass, forming Tibet’s link with India.

The ambassador did not rule out that in future, the Tibet-Nathula route to Sikkim could be connected to the much more ambitious Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.

He praised India’s recent enthusiasm for establishing cross-border connectivity, under the framework of New Delhi’s “Act East” policy.

Mr. Le pointed out that China’s Eurasian “Belt and Road” connectivity initiative could be harmonised with India’s “Act East” policy.

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