BEIJING, July 24 China plans to extend a railway
line linking Tibet with the rest of the country to the borders
of India, Nepal and Bhutan by 2020 once an extension to a key
site in Tibetan Buddhism opens, a state-run newspaper reported
China opened the railway to Tibet's capital Lhasa in 2006,
which passes spectacular icy peaks on the Tibetan highlands,
touching altitudes as high as 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) above
sea level, as part of government efforts to boost development.
Critics of the railway, including exiled Tibetans and rights
groups, say it has spurred an influx of long-term migrants who
threaten Tibetans' cultural integrity, which rests on Buddhist
beliefs and a traditional herding lifestyle.
The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's
official People's Daily, said that an extention to Shigatse, the
traditional seat of Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest figure,
the Panchen Lama, would formally open next month.
That link is scheduled for its own extension during the
2016-2020 period to two separate points, one on the border of
Nepal and the other on the border with India and Bhutan, the
newspaper cited Yang Yulin, deputy head of Tibet's railways, as
saying, without providing details.
China has long mooted this plan, but the difficulty and
expense of building in such a rugged and remote region has
Tibet is a highly sensitive region, not just because of
continued Tibetan opposition to Chinese control, but because of
its strategic position next to India, Nepal and Myanmar.
The Chinese announcement coincides with a drive by India,
under its new prime minister Narendra Modi, to consolidate its
influence with its smaller neighbours.
Modi's foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, heads to Nepal on
Friday with a proposed pact to help develop the Himalayan
country's hydro-electric power potential high on the
Modi, who made his first foreign trip as prime minister to
Bhutan, is to visit Nepal next month. But Nepal's opposition
Maoists are uneasy about the hydro-electric plan and say it
could lock out China to the benefit of Indian companies.
India and China fought a brief border war in 1962 over the
region at the eastern end of the Himalayas. The nuclear-armed
neighbours signed a pact in October to ensure that differences
on their shared border do not spark a confrontation.
India and China have competing claims over what India calls
Arunachal Pradesh, which has been administered by India for
decades and what China calls South Tibet.
China's Communist army occupied Tibet in 1950. Nine years
later, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India
after a failed uprising.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)