India developing border infra, connectivity with friendly neighbours due to China concerns: Jaishankar

Government outlines network of border infrastructure projects, as it braces for an Opposition attack on the LAC standoff

February 08, 2023 10:13 pm | Updated February 09, 2023 07:52 am IST - NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar | File photo

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar | File photo | Photo Credit: MOORTHY RV

India’s connectivity projects with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar have been accelerated due to its “obvious” concerns about the frontier with China, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday. He cited a number of infrastructure projects along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and border connectivity efforts with “friendly neighbours”, including all nations who share land borders with India, except Pakistan.

“We have focused on rapid development of infrastructure along the northern borders with China for obvious strategic reasons,” Mr. Jaishankar told a group of journalists. “We have focused on rapidly developing border connectivity with our friendly neighbours to enhance trade, energy and other people-to-people exchanges,” he reportedly added, ahead of an expected attack by Opposition parties in Parliament on the ongoing military standoff with China at the LAC.

On Monday, Congress MP Manish Tewari gave an adjournment notice, which was subsequently disallowed, to discuss what he called “China’s land grab”, including the recent official report for a security conference on the loss of access to 26 of 65 patrolling points at the LAC, which had been reported in The Hindu. On Tuesday, Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also raised the China border issue in the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address.

Upcoming Chinese visits

Mr, Jaishankar also told journalists that work began last month on the strategically important 135 km-long Chushul-Dungti-Fukche-Demchok road in the Ladakh region, news agency PTI reported.

The Minister’s statement, one of the rare times that the government has expressly articulated the Chinese challenge at the LAC since April 2020, is significant as it comes three weeks before a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang.

Mr. Gang is expected to visit Delhi for the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting on March 1-2, and is also invited to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Goa in early May. Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be invited to the SCO Summit being planned in June this year, and to the G-20 summit in September.

Strategic infrastructure

According to a document circulated by the government, the length of roads constructed in the “China-border areas” during the last eight years (6806 km between 2014-2022) was nearly double the length of roads constructed in the preceding six years (3610 km between 2008-2014). It claimed that the same was true for bridge construction in border areas. The document also cites the completion of the 9.02 km-long Atal tunnel, the world’s longest tunnel above 10,000 feet, as well as the highest motorable road over the Umlingla Pass at 19,024 feet in southern Ladakh’s Demchok area, as important achievements.

In addition, the document listed road, rail, bridge and port connectivity projects in the neighbourhood, including the development and modernisation of integrated check points for smoother trade flows with Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. In Nepal, the government has committed ₹500 crore for the construction of 10 roads totalling 306 km in the Terai region, and is working on rail links with all neighbours to India’s north and east.

The government has also sanctioned funding for cross-border power transmission lines with Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as “South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum products pipeline” between Motihari in India and Amlekhgunj in Nepal, and another high speed diesel pipeline with Bangladesh, that will help reduce petrol prices and road congestion. The document also mentions the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project being undertaken by the government in Myanmar, including the Paletwa inland waterway and the Sittwe Port, as a “strategic project”.

Other “strategic achievements” at the LAC, according to the document, are the opening of 16 mountain passes ahead of time from previous years, and a number of bridge and tunnel projects in Arunachal Pradesh, which was the site of the most recent India-China skirmish in Yangtse, where Chinese soldiers attempted to overrun an Indian post. It also commends work on adopting new technologies to create year-round access to the most remote areas covered by permafrost, thus enabling strategic or military movement.

There was an error pertaining to the name of Chinese Foreign Minister in the earlier version. The same has been rectified.
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