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Xi Jinping's visit to Tibet sends strong message to India

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Message Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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In a development that raised eyebrows in India, Chinese President Xi Jinping made an unannounced visit to Tibet this week, including to Nyingchi located less than 16 km from the disputed border with India's Arunachal Pradesh.

The July 21-23 visit was kept under wraps by China's official media till the end of the trip on Friday.

Nyingchi is also where China is constructing a massive dam on the Brahmaputra river, trans-boundary river which flows through Tibet, India, and Bangladesh.

President Xi Jinping flew into the city of Nyingchi and took a train to the Tibetan capital Lhasa. The 435km Nyingchi-Lhasa high-speed railway train was inaugurated last month.

Nyingchi is a frontier town located less than 16km (10 miles) from the disputed border between China and India. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet territory.

The new railway is part of a larger high-speed development linking Tibet in the west with neighboring Sichuan province. When it is built, that route will connect Lhasa with Chengdu and will be the second railway into Tibet after the Qinghai route that opened in 2006.

Long Xingchun, director of the Centre for Indian Studies at China West Normal University, said once the service from Nyingchi through to Sichuan was completed it would be used to transport military personnel and equipment to the border area.

"The Sichuan-Tibet railway will be significant for transporting military equipment, weapons and personnel," Long said, adding that Sichuan province had played a key role in providing troops and equipment to the border region in Tibet.

The visit comes amid border tensions with India. Last year China and India saw the most serious clash in decades on their disputed border in the Himalayas, with death of 20 Indian soldiers.

The Chinese president's visit to Tibet may also have been intended to signal to India that Xi Jinping is prioritizing the issue of tensions along India's border with China, where military clashes have recently taken place, said London-based Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett.

"So this is a low-key but very powerful way of saying the Indian border issue is of major importance to Xi Jinping," Barnett said, adding that Xi Jinping may also hope to tie his visit to Tibet to this year's 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.

The advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet was quoted by the Guardian as saying that Xi's visit is "an indication of how high Tibet continues to figure in Chinese policy considerations".

The way in which the visit was organized and the "complete absence of any immediate state media coverage of the visit indicate that Tibet continues to be a sensitive issue and that the Chinese authorities do not have confidence in their legitimacy among the Tibetan people," said the group based in Washington DC.

Speaking to Radio Free Asia, Tenzin Lekshayspokesperson for the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet's Dharamsala, India-based exile governmentsaid that if Tibet were as peaceful and stable as China's leaders claim, there would have been no need for the secrecy surrounding Xi's visit.

It has now been 70 years since China marched into Tibet, a formerly independent Himalayan country, and annexed it by force, Lekshay said.

"Xi Jinping should listen to the real aspiration of the Tibetan people, which is to have His Holiness the Dalai Lama return to Tibet and the Tibetan issue be resolved," he said.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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