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China’s Bid To Upgrade Stilwell Road

NEW DELHI, Mar 27: India may have finally closed the chapter on reopening the Stilwell Road, but China has shown ‘considerable interest’ in development of this road and contracts have been awarded for upgrading 1031 km of  the historic road right up to Pangsau Pass, 61 km away from Ledo in Assam.

The significant admission is part of the Defense Ministry’s report, which also reveals that China has constructed roads from highways, logistics centers and major defense installations to all the passes and military on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and international border.

As reported, a Parliamentary panel has rapped the Defense Ministry for its complacency and not maintaining detailed data on activities going on across the international border particularly in China.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense Ministry has been told about China’s activities on Myanmar border and construction of the Stilwell Road. The 1,739 km road starts in Assam and links Kunming in Yunnan Province of South China through Pangsau Pass on India-Myanmar border.

For starters, China had already upgraded 647 km Kunming-Myitkyina stretch via Kambaiti Pass into an all-weather road in May 2007.

A Myanmar construction company Ya Za Na Company with Chinese leanings has been entrusted with construction of 192 km Myitkyina-Tannai Road. “Work is being carried out on a fast track to convert it into a four-lane road,” the report said.

Contracts have been awarded for construction of 174 km Tannai-Pangsau stretch to a pro-Chinese, Myanmar company, the report said.

The 3,727 ft Pangsau Pass lies on top of the Patkai Hills on the India-Myanmar border. The distance from Ledo to Pangsau Pass is 61 km but it is known as ‘Hell Pass” because of its tough terrain. The first Myanmarese village, Pangsau, lies 2 km beyond the pass to the east.

The development stands out in sharp contrast to New Delhi’s decision not to open the Stilwell Road. The decision of the government was conveyed by Ministry of External Affairs to the Parliamentary Committee on Assurances, as reported by this newspaper.

India’s stand was partly based on the negative response of military-junta of Myanmar, which appeared cold to the idea of re-opening of the Stilwell Road because of the country’s problem with the Kachin rebels.

Curiously enough the Myanmar Government has now allowed China-backed construction companies right up to India’s doorstep till Pangsau Pass in Kachin state.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, China has embarked on a construction spree particularly in Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). In recent years, China has undertaken development projects of constructing roads in TAR. All major highways have been upgraded to two-way black top all weather roads; open to traffic through the year.

(Courtesy: Kalyan Barooah, Assam Tribune)

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