Yesterday, Indian Prime Minister Modi marked the 3rd anniversary of his rule. On this important day, Modi chose to attend what was considered to be a “meaningful” ceremony — opening of the Dora-Sadia Bridge near the India-China boundary. The 9.15-kilometer bridge is the longest bridge in India and is said to have shortened travel time between Assam in North Eastern India to ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ (China’s Southern Tibet region) by 7 to 8 hours. The geographic location being close to the Sino-Indian boundary, it is natural to analyse military uses of the bridge, and together with fact that Modi highlighted national pride and participated in the inauguration ceremony, the move acquires significance as a means of exercising pressure on China. However, although Indian military sources said the bridge would help in resisting “unexpected action from China”, China experts in India told the “Global Times” in an interview that they believe that this is just an eye-catching argument. Ultimately, conflict with China does not help (serve) India’s real interest, its current hopes of vigorously developing the economy.
Before the opening of the Dora-Sadia Bridge on the 26th, Modi told the news on Twitter that it was one of India’s “most important infrastructure projects.” According to a report in the Indian “Herald” of the 26th, Modi attended the unveiling ceremony, and had a brief walk on the bridge with a car carrying all levels of officials from the bridge passing by. Modi announced that the bridge was named after the most famous singer of Assam, Hazarica.
“You have been waiting for the bridge for many years in front of you, please open your phone and its flashlight before this grand festive day passes out.” In the opening ceremony of the bridge, Modi’s speech is very emotional. He said that people have been waiting for the bridge for 50 years. “If development is never ending, then the first priority is the infrastructure, it is to achieve the twin track development of material infrastructure and social infrastructure.”
In his speech, Modi spoke about the actual value of the bridge: the distance between the two places was reduced by 165 kilometers and the transportation time was reduced by seven to eight hours. “The bridge will save 1 million rupees per day,” he said. “A lot of people in India do not know how beautiful this place is, and if it can become a tourist center, the region will benefit.” Modi stressed that this is the foundation for commencement of the new economic revolution in India, “for India to become an economically developed country, the dream of laying the foundation of a superpower, the Northeast is the beginning of these dreams.” Modi said the bridge opened avenues for high quality ginger grown by farmers in the northeast to improve the economic situation of farmers. If farmers do organic farming, the world will embrace them.
The Dora-Sadia Bridge has a length of 9.15 km across the Brahmaputra River (the Chinese segment of the river is known as Ya Lu Cang Bu), the longest bridge in India, connecting the town of Sadia in Assam and “Dora village in Arunachal Pradesh”. The bridge costs a total of Rs. 20.5 billion (about $ 2 billion).
Local Indians are excited about the completion of the bridge. According to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report of the 26th, Assamese resident Sakhalia told the media: “It is difficult to imagine such a bridge on the intersection of six rivers.” Assam Chief Minister Saabanada is looking forward to the new bridge promoting economic development of backward areas such in Assam and attract more tourists.
In addition to the opening of the Dora-Sadia Bridge, Modi also attended the ground breaking ceremony of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Assam and the foundation of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, in the largest city of Guwahati. “India Times” of the 26th, said that later that day, Modi will also attend a rally and make a speech on the performance of his Government. ND TV said that Modi’s 26th May speeches and events were part of the third anniversary celebrations of the Bhartiya Janta Party’s rule lasting 20 days from 26 onwards.
Waking up to the challenge?
The Dora-Sadia Bridge is considered part of Modi’s ambitious Indian infrastructure program, but because of its sensitive geographical location, many foreign media analysts point to the military value of the bridge. “Indian Express” of the 26th said it was built to signal India’s strengthening military defense capabilities against China. The army is the “most significant beneficiary” of the bridge. India’s “Economic Times” of the 26th said that that the new bridge is India’s way of conveying to China to “stay away” (maintain distance).
“India Times” of 26 said that Dora – Sadiya Bridge was the largest of the four on the Brahmaputra River and was a double laned one, designed for dual (civil-military) use. Indian Army’s 60 ton tanks can pass on it. The area north of the bridge is only 100 kms away from the Sino-Indian border. “India Express” said that before the bridge opened, the army used to spend hours traveling by boat across the Brahmaputra River, or took more than ten hours to bypass it. Now, India’s delivery (time) of troops to “Arunachal Pradesh” will be reduced by 3 to 4 hours, and will greatly enhance the Indian Army’s mobility. According to reports, the Indian Army had sought to promote the construction of this bridge for many years. The feasibility study of the bridge was conducted in 2003. It was begun in 2011 and was originally scheduled to be completed by 2015.
As to the role of the Dora-Sadia Bridge, Indian officials do not shy away from mentioning China. BBC reported that India’s Deputy Interior Minister, Riju, said that China’s activities compel India has to work overtime to strengthen the infrastructure in order to defend the country. Indian Interior Minister Singh also stressed the importance of building infrastructure in Abang (literally A-province – Chinese shorthand for Arunachal Pradesh), saying it was part of defending the country’s long border with China.
“In the Indian political arena, there are still people with the 1962 Sino-Indian war defeat complex, and even want to take revenge.” In an interview to “Global Times” reporter on 26, Shanghai International Research Center South Asia Institute of Central Asia, Wang Dehua, said that memoirs of defeated generals and other relevant documents reveal that one of the reasons for India’s defeat was the poor state of infrastructure in Southern Tibet and lack of access to information.
US Bloomberg said the Dora – Sadia Bridge was to ensure that the Indian army could “enter the Southern Tibet region smoothly”. Former Indian Army Colonel Cooper (?) said the construction of the bridge in the Sino-Indian border infrastructure represents a major change in Indian defence thinking: “the new infrastructure will help the Indian army to prepare to retaliate against Chinese adventures”. “India is now waking up to the challenge. We need infrastructure to transport troops and supplies, if we want to fight China,” said the BBC quoting retired Indian general Gen. Jitender (?) Singh’s words. Since the 1960s, India did not build infrastructure in the disputed area out of the “foolish” fear that a good (network of) border roads could be “taken advantage of” by the Chinese army during time of conflict.
It is not difficult to see from the above mentioned remarks of Indian military figures that they believe that the Dora-Sadia Bridge is in preparation for a conflict between China and India. In Wang Dehua view, these are just eye-catching remarks, because “this bridge simply cannot play any (such) role.” Wang Dehua told the “Global Times” reporter that some Indians still retain a cold war mindset. An Indian scholar has written a book anticipating that in “2017 China and India will definitely go to war”. Wang Dehua was in India and met the author. He laughed in embarrassment when asked “do you believe it” (yourself) ?.
“Dual policy” towards China
Modi’s ambitions in the disputed areas of China and India are not just to build the Dora-Sadia Bridge. The BBC says India is building a two-lane highway across “Arunachal province”, upgrading an old road built during World War II, and implementing four other road projects. Besides these, a project for upgrading of large transport airports is also in progress.
Apart from engaging in infrastructure construction, last month India also invited the Dalai Lama to visit “Arunachal province”. The Chinese side protested strongly. Of late, controversies between the two countries over the border have become more frequent. Wang Dehua considers that India thinks that by these actions of forcing a showdown with China, it can make China yield concessions on the border issue. But it should be clear to India that problems cannot be solved by force; that will only hurt both sides, with India suffering far more (bleeding severely). “China and India cannot go to war. Conflict does not serve the national interest of India and China. India must resolve problems peacefully through dialogue.”
From military security to economic and trade strategy, India seems to have given a lot of thought lately to “contention” with China. A few days after conclusion of China’s “One Belt, One Road” International Cooperation Summit in China, India advanced the concept of “Asia-Africa Development Corridor”, trying to push Japan’s “infrastructure corridor from Asia-Pacific to Africa” with Japan. Two days earlier, a number of Indian media got excited at the (news of) United States reactivating two of its infrastructure projects in Asia. Wild speculation in the Indian media about the intention behind that news was also to counter China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative.
As to the series of actions and reactions in India, Peking University South Asia Research Center Director Jiang Jingkui told “Global Times” reporters on the 26th that “even if India is really using the ‘Asia-Africa Development Corridor to confront China, we do not have to engage in confrontation. China can actively use (its) ‘One Belt, One Road’ (initiative) to connect with it, so that African friends will be all the more grateful to China. For (quite) some time, China should display large heartedness as befitting a big power.
In the third year of Modi’s rule, many Indian media also summed up his foreign policy on the 26th. “Modi’s China policy shows some resilience of a “double whammy” – (treating) China both as a friend with a focus on improving relations with it and going all out (to give it back) while dealing with it on the diplomatic and strategic front. On the one hand, Modi invited Chinese leaders to visit his hometown to build a personal relationship; on the other hand, pursued the opposite (course) in some diplomatic and strategic issues, such as trying to win over Maldives, Sri Lanka and other small neighbors and Southeast Asian countries as well as going hand in hand with China’s traditional rival, Japan.
In an interview with the “Global Times”, Wang Dehua said India’s foreign policy has a certain continuity, “because of its civil service system of governance under which a large number of officials wielding real power continue in office. So Indian politics does not depend on a particular leader coming to power and making fundamental changes”. In relations with China, because many of some of India’s elite and the military have Western education and influence, so the United States, Japan and other countries exert a pull and India’s relations with China will change. But on this issue, there are debates within India; some people advocate not to show an “arrogant India(n)” face to China. Jiang Jingkui said that upon assuming office, Modi attached importance to attracting investment. He understood that this was inseparable from China, and that only by drawing in the United States, Japan and other countries could China be counter-balanced.
“There is little chance of further (continued) deterioration of India-China relations. There will be a turn around. After all, India realises the turn (back on track) in Sino-US relations, and the stability of Sino-Russian relations”, said Wang Dehua summarising the future of Sino-Indian relations. “The Hindustan Times” observed that Sino-Indian relations cannot be represented by one or two issues (only); both countries are aware of this. There has to be more responsible cooperation between these major powers, for the sake of the interests of the people. ▲