September 18, 2009

India-China Border Brouhaha

Indian war hawks are abuzz over alleged Chinese military incursions across the vast and largely unpatrolled borderlands of Aksai Chin and Kashmir. In a show of force today the Indian Air Force landed one of its Antonov transport planes near Leh in Kashmir where there were reports recently of Chinese helicopters violating the airspace. But locals in the area known as Ladakh are less concerned than the hotheads in India proper that want more military spending on the region to keep up with the new paved roads and shiny speed boats and helicopters on the Chinese side of the border.

Fact is the area has virtually open borders and trade flows freely as it has for decades. On the Indian side the border with Tibet's Ngari Prefecture at gorgeous Pangong Tso (Lake) was opened to tourism a few years ago. As recently as 2008 on the Chinese side Burang County was also open to travelers. Even today with restrictions on Tibet travel it is possible with the right paperwork and connections to obtain permits to travel the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway and visit the area. Without military tension the region is ripe for tourist development.

But the fuss on the Indian side may be due to the discovery a few years back of very high quality uranium deposits in the area around Pangong. Even with access to uranium supplies courtesy the USA-India nuclear deal, New Delhi may want to hold fast to the region lest Beijing attempt an economic absorption. Will the people of Ladakh go along or will the region be plunged into the type of chaos and instability found just a few hundred miles away in Gilgit-Baltistan and Afghanistan?

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