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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > July 21, 2007 > China’s Everest Conquest is India’s Waterloo

Mainstream, VOL XLV No 31

China’s Everest Conquest is India’s Waterloo

Saturday 21 July 2007, by Suvrokamal Dutta


The recent Chinese decision to construct an all- weather road for the tourists to Mount Everest with the purpose of the coming Olympic Games have raised many eyebrows at the international level. It has sent ripples throughout the Indian establishment even though the PMO in India has maintained a stoic silence on the issue.

Chinese Culture Minister Sun Jiazheng has defended his government’s audacious project to build a metalled road to the Mount Everest base camp before next year’s Olympic Games, saying it was an ambitious infrastructure venture that would greatly benefit the people in the region. ‘‘The purpose of this new infrastructure project is to make it more convenient for those who would try to make an assault on the world’s highest peak,’’ Sun said.

The World Wildlife Fund has opposed the project saying that ‘‘making mountain roads motorable would increase tourist activities, which would increase pollution of the fresh water sources originating from the Himalayas’’. Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and a renowned glaciologist, said a road like the one planned by the Chinese “can completely change the ecosystem dynamics”. Describing glaciers as super-fragile systems, Hasnain argued that “if indirect impacts of [global] warming can be seen so dramatically, direct human intervention would be even more dangerous”.

Human rights activists also believe the road construction forms part of China’s attempts to demolish Tibet’s cultural and natural heritage. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against the occupation, has described the road construction project as a “second invasion” of Tibet. Environmental activists say the project will increase pollution through fuel-burning, the felling of trees and the accumulation of waste, and could enhance glacial fracturing. They worry this will add to the problems already caused by the increase in numbers of pilgrims and tourists to the area due to the recent opening of the Beijing-Lhasa railway track, the highest railway system in the world.

Tenzin Tsultrim, Head of the Environment and Development Desk in the exiled Government of Tibet in India, says: “For the last fifty years, especially in Tibet, China has carried out massive development projects with complete negligence of social responsibility.”

THE sudden announcement by China to construct this road is not without any meaningful purpose. The reason given by China for the construction of this road for the sake of tourism is not the only reason behind it nor is the logic so simple. Already China has established several military and nuclear arsenals over Tibet and is ruling that land with an iron hand. It doesn’t allow free press to enter Tibet, any form of protest is crushed with repression in that country.

What is really surprising is the stoic silence of the Government of India on this issue bypassing and totally ignoring the security and environ-mental consequences of such large scale activity over the Everest region. The Prime Minister, for whatever reason which only he knows, happily claims China to be the most important and economically the most vital neighbour of ours which no doubt is true. But one strongly hopes that Dr Singh doesn’t fall into the old Nehruvian trap of Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai. If that happens the result could be disastrous for India in the long run.

It is very natural for the Indian Left to keep silent on this important issue as their ideological mentor today after the collapse of the former Soviet Union is China. However, one would expect the Congress party to take a strong line on this as the Congress party has always taken the national concerns and security implications of developments into consideration. The BJP has criticised the Indian Government calling it “clueless about the whole development”. Former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha says the Chinese plan “has security implications for India” which is factually true. With China already refusing to accept Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Indian territory things would become all the more complicated if China is successful in constructing this 66 square kilometre long road which it plans to complete within another four years. Once the road is complete China can keep an eye on the Indian territory of Sikkim, West Bengal, the North-East as well as Nepal and Bhutan as this road would be at a height of above 5000 metres above sea level. This would mean the Indian key military and civilian installations like oil refineries, power stations, hydel power plants, military and air force bases would all come under the Chinese surveillance, and this could pose a grave danger to our security in the long run.

With China’s move to build eleven dams on the Brahmaputra river for electricity generation, thus diverting the water flowing to India, the Indian eco-system could be seriously affected in the long term. This plan of China can spell disaster for India. Tsultrim of the exiled Government of Tibet in India says the dams could have “detrimental impacts on the lives of the downstream population”. This will also result in long term disaster for the Brahmaputra-Ganges flood plains in India and Bangladesh as the area would be drained out of water and the land could get barren.

With the latest move to construct the Everest road its seems the woes of India from China are an unending process. This Everest glory of China could be India’s Waterloo if India doesn’t take preventative measures forthwith.

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