China's Xi 'secretly' visits Tibetan town bordering India

Wednesday 28th July 2021 06:40 EDT

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made a rare visit to Nyingchi, a strategically located border town close to Arunachal Pradesh, during his first visit to Tibet, the official media reported. Xi arrived at the Nyingchi Mainling Airport last week and was greeted by local people and officials of various ethnic groups, Xinhua news agency reported.

He is perhaps the first Chinese leader to visit the town at the India-China border. Xi's politically significant visit was kept under wraps by China's official media. During his visit to Nyingchi, Xi, 68, visited the Nyang River Bridge to inspect the ecological preservation in the basin of the Brahmaputra river, which is called Yarlung Zangbo in the Tibetan language.

China this year has approved plans to build a huge dam over the Brahmaputra river during the current 14th Five-Year Plan, which raised concerns in the riparian states of India and Bangladesh.

Nyingchi is a prefecture-level city in Tibet that is adjacent to the Arunachal Pradesh border. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet, which is firmly rejected by India. The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC). India and China have been locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year.

The two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong Lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks. The two sides are now engaged in talks to extend the disengagement process to the remaining friction points. Chinese leaders periodically visit Tibet. But Xi, who also heads the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and the powerful Central Military Commission is perhaps the first top leader in recent years to visit Tibet's border town.

In video footage shared on Chinese social media, he was seen greeting residents in Nyingchi, known as the Switzerland of Tibet.

Nyingchi was in news in June when China fully operationalised its first bullet train in Tibet, which besides improving the connectivity in the remote Himalayan region also bolsters the Chinese military’s ability to move troops and weaponry to the Indian borders at a much faster pace.

The train connects Tibet's provincial capital Lhasa with Nyingchi. It has a designed speed of 160 km per hour and operates on a single-line electrified railway covering 435.5-km. The Lhasa-Nyingchi railway is Tibet's first electrified railway.

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