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Mainstream, VOL LV No 24 New Delhi June 3, 2017

Dhola-Sadiya Bridge: India’s Strategic Corridor to China?

Thursday 8 June 2017

by Jajati K. Pattnaik

India’s longest bridge, Dhola-Sadiya, which was built over Lohit, a tributary of the Brahmaputra river in the Tinsukia district of Assam bordering Arunachal Pradesh, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 26, 2017. The bridge, spanning over 9.15 km, connects Dhola in the south bank and Sadiya in the north bank of the river. It serves as the lifeline of connectivity between Upper Assam and Eastern Aruncahal Pradesh.1 Besides this, the bridge could be a catalyst to protect India’s security and economic interests in the Eastern sector vis-a-vis China as well.

Geo-Strategic Perspective

The bridge is significant from the geostrategic angle, given the nature of the controversial Chinese clams2 over Aruncahal Pradesh. Recently, China has renamed six places3 in Arunachal Pradesh on its official map and calls them as part of Southern Tibet. In this context, the Dhola-Sadiya bridge in India’s eastern frontier could be a strategic counterweight to Beijing. Moreover, the strategic experts quite emphatically believe that its engineering marvel has the capacity to resist 60-tonne battle tanks and can give logistic support to the deployment of the Army in the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh.

On the defence point of view, Subir Bhaumik mentioned: “The Dhola-Sadiya bridge will boost India’s military logistics capability to beef up defenses in Arunachal, specially the eastern part of the State. India’s real problem vis-a-vis China is the ability to deploy formations from the rear to the battlefront—the mobilisation time is far longer than China’s which has the benefit of a flat terrain in the Tibetan plateau and also much superior surface transport infrastructure in Tibet. Now with bridges such as these—one at Bogibeel is also nearing completion—India’s ability to move formations from the rear to the battlefront will be augmented sharply. Add to that the development of the advance landing grounds or ALGs and the procurement of modern high volume transport aircraft that has improved our strategic airlift capability, this is something our Army will welcome.”4 Quite akin to this, Lt. General (Rtd.) J. R. Mukherjee observed: “The new bridge would significantly assist in terms of improving Indian defence capabilities in the border areas of Arunachal. It is a strategic asset.”5 Shantanu Kri, a local resident and editor of Lohit Mirror, said: “As evident, the Indian garrison stationed in the Lohitpur, Walong and Kibithoo front had to face a lot of difficulties before, but with the completion of the Parsuram Bridge in 2006, the movement of the Army became easier. Now the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge will facilitate the troops stationed in Anini and other strategic borders in Arunachal Pradesh.” 6

Courtesy: The Indian Express

Geo-Economic Perspective

Notwithstanding its strategic domain, the bridge has deeper economic connotations for the region in terms of cross-border trade and economic collaboration. The Dhola-Sadiya bridge would give easy access to Anini7 and Kibithoo8 which are less than 300 km away from the bridge point. So, it would facilitate several economic/industrial corridors and provide shorter and faster access to the Indian industries to tap the South-Western and South-Eastern Chinese markets.

As Lt. General (Rtd.) Mukherjee said: “Tezu —Hayuliang—Walong—Dichhu pass—Rima is the shortest route to mainland China and offers tremendous potential to both Look and Act East for the entire region provided the Indian Government wishes to do so.”9 He argued: “With the current state of Sino-Indian relations, in my view it is most unlikely that the Kibithoo route would be opened for border trade in the foreseeable future. The bridge would however result in more trade between Assam and Arunachal.”10 Similarly, Bhaumik pointed out that “It totally depends on the Government of India. China is open to as many border trade routes as possible. We have argued before that the Kibithoo route is the shortest and most economic route to develop an overland route to China—both the Stillwell Road and the BCIM car rally 2013 route are much longer. So, the Indian Government should develop the Kibithoo route for overland trade with China. And if they choose to do so, this bridge is surely a huge game-changer.”11

Giving a perspective on the impact of India’s longest bridge for the region, Rajiv Miso, an academic from Arunachal Pradesh, opined: “The ‘historic’ opening of the Dhola-Sadiya bridge has given a ray of hope to the people of Arunachal Pradesh in general and the people of the districts of Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley in particular. This is one of the major developments of the Government of India’s initiative of ‘Act East Policy’. These districts of Arunachal have already had a taste of invest-ment of corporate houses in hydro-power and related infrastructures. They are hoping for such major investments by other corporate houses soon to bring in development.”12

He also added: “In general, the development has broken the myth that the Government of India is reluctant to develop Arunachal Pradesh considering the nature of its relationship with China. Optimistically, it is a positive sign for both the countries to cement the age-old ties and move ahead. The 1962 hangover can be laid to rest. The onus is on both the countries to open up avenues of trade and opening of cultural centres and exchanges for mutual benefit.”13

Hence, the need of the hour is to break the India-China jinx over the boundary row and prop up the geo-economic corridor through cross-border collaborations. India has to open up its frontiers to boost its economy and China has to reciprocate in a similar way. And if the trade booms up, it may draw a different landscape in their bilateral relations. China needs India to expand its trade in South Asia and India, on the other hand, requires the goodwill of the Chinese to penetrate into South-East Asia. In this context, the India-China cross-border engagement paradigm will defuse the tension in the Eastern sector heralding a new relationship between the two Asian giants in the 21st century.


1. Here, Eastern Arunachal means Lohit, Anjaw, Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley Districts.

2. Chinese claim over Arunachal Pradesh is neither substantiated by history nor by any other factor. People of Arunachal Pradesh are deeply interwoven with the socio-cultural mosaic and political landscape of India and it is an inseparable part of the Indian Union. The historical records and the works substantiate the Eastern sector being an integral part of India. The British War Office, which published the maps in 1907, illustrated the Eastern sector lying within the Indian territory. The works of Francis Younghusband on ‘India and Tibet’ as well as Charles Bells on ‘Tibet: Past and Present’ clearly marked the Tribal area within the Indian territory. The border was brought into line applying the watershed principle as generally practised in mountainous terrain after giving due consideration to historical, ethnic and strategic factors. The Simla Agreement (1914) did not create a new boundary; it only formally delineated ‘the natural, customary, traditional boundary in this sector’. ’During the Sino-Indian border conflict in 1962, China unilaterally made a cease-fire and withdrew beyond the McMahon line which confirms India’s North-East Frontier along the McMahon Line.’ ’The Chinese withdrawal legitimised and vindicated McMahon line as the international boundary between India and China.’ For details see, M.L. Bose, History of Arunachal Pradesh, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1977.

3. The official names of the six places are: Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidêngarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bümo La and Namkapub Ri. For details See, “Standardisation of Terms Aimed at affirming Sovereignty: Experts”, Global Times (Beijing), April 18, 2017, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1042979.shtml See, Huffington Post, April 19, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/04/19/china-has-renamed-6-places-in-arunachal-pradesh-on-its-officia_a_22045890/

4. Collected an electronic mediated response derived from Subir Bhaumik on May 28, 2017.

5. Collected an electronic mediated response from Lt. General (Rtd.) J.R. Mukherjee on May 29, 2017.

6. Collected an electronic mediated response from Shantanu Kri on May 30, 2017.

7. Anini is the District headquarters of Dibang Valley District.

8. Kibithoo, which is situated in the Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh, is important from the geo-economic perspective. It is situated at an altitude of 4070 feet above the seal level as compared to Nathula Pass (Sikkim) which lies at an altitude of 14,400 feet above the sea level. Even in Arunachal Pradesh, the low elevated mountain range of Kibithoo has greater advantages over other mountain passes such as Bumla, Taksing, Mechuka, Monigong and Gelling. For details see, Jajati K. Pattnaik, “Kibithoo Land Bridge to India—China Economic Corridor”, The Arunachal Times, February 6, 2017. Also refer, Sangai Express, February 10, 2017.

9. Collected an electronic mediated response from Lt. General (Rtd.) J.R. Mukherjee on “The Potentiality of Kibithoo as Trade Corridor“ on November 28, 2015.

10. Mukherjee, no. 5.

11. Bhaumik, no. 4.

12. Collected an electronic mediated response from Rajiv Miso on May 29, 2017.

13. Ibid.

The author is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Government Model Degree College, Roing, Arunachal Pradesh. He was formerly a Visiting Scholar at the Gulf Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His e-mail is: pattnaik.jajati66[at]gmail.com

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