China Completes Network of Bridges in Tibet for Railway Infrastructure Near Indian Border that Is Raising Dual-Use Concerns

On June 20, state-owned Chi­na Rail­way Guangzhou Engi­neer­ing Bureau Group and Tibet Rail­way Con­struc­tion Co. com­plet­ed the last of 120 crit­i­cal riv­er bridge­sa­long south­west­ern Tibet’s Yarlung Tsang­po riv­er, as part of the 435-km Lhasa-Nyingchi rail­way project.  The rail bridgeis sit­u­at­ed in Tibet, 30 kilo­me­ters from the Indi­an bor­der state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Indi­an experts are con­cerned that, once com­plet­ed, the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail­way — the Tibetan sec­tion of the Sichuan-Tibet nation­al rail­way project — will offer Chi­na trans­port capa­bil­i­ty near the bor­der that has sig­nif­i­cant dual-use (military/civilian) poten­tial.  The rail­way is expect­ed to become oper­a­tional in 2021 and rep­re­sents just one of many Chi­nese efforts to pro­mote invest­ment and infra­struc­ture devel­op­ment in remote loca­tions near Tibet’s bor­der with India, where uthor­i­ties have con­sis­tent­ly com­plained of Chi­nese encroach­ments into Indi­an ter­ri­to­ry.

Approx­i­mate­ly 75% of the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail­way is com­prised of a net­work of bridges and tun­nels.  Once com­plet­ed, the struc­ture will be Tibet’s first elec­tric rail­way with a designed speed of 160 km per hour. The rail­way also con­nects to a num­ber of oth­er Chi­nese road and trans­port infra­struc­ture projects in Tibet, which is emerg­ing as a crit­i­cal bridge for the expan­sion of Beijing’s influ­ence in South Asia.  The role is per­haps most promi­nent in the phys­i­cal con­nec­tiv­i­ty being estab­lished through rail and road infra­struc­tures.