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India says no to Stilwell Road

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India's national government has decided not to go forward with plans to rebuild the Stilwell Road connecting northeast India's Assam State with Yunnan in China, according to a BBC report.

The decision follows a continuing impasse regarding the long-disputed border shared by China and India. Recent talks between the two countries ended with no resolution of border issues and a promise to talk more in the future.

The Stilwell Road is a former World War II supply route built in 1944 under the supervision of US General 'Vinegar' Joe Stilwell. The 1,700-kilometer (1,000-mile) road once connected Kunming with the city of Ledo in Assam state, with most of the road passing through northern Myanmar's Kachin state.

Several prominent officials in Assam state had been pressing for the reopening of the Stilwell Road in recent years, which they had viewed as being a potential source of economic growth which could stabilize India's occasionally restive northeast.

In 2006, more than 10,000 demonstrators demanded that the government reopen the road. Some analysts have estimated that as much as one-fifth of bilateral trade between China and India could pass through a revived Stilwell Road.

In addition to New Delhi's reluctance to reopen the Stilwell Road, the government of Myanmar has been cool to the idea of an international highway passing through Kachin state, much of which is controlled by the Kachin Independence Army, which has had a ceasefire with Myanmar's ruling junta since 1994.

The Chinese portion of the road, which heads westward from Kunming, has been completed for several years. Progress in Myanmar, where more than half of the road is located, has been slow. In 2007, India became the last of the three countries to start work on the road.

The Indian government's reversal of its decision to rebuild the Stilwell Road suggests that despite recent diplomatic breakthroughs between the two Asian powers, there are concerns bubbling beneath the surface. These concerns are likely to include Indian worries about China diverting the Brahmaputra River, Chinese involvement in the arms trade around Assam and China's stance toward Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing calls 'South Tibet'.

Nazeeb Arif, a native of Assam state and former secretary-general of the Indian Chamber of Commerce who is a major proponent of rebuilding the Stilwell Road, told the BBC that trade with China would be a boon to the region's economy, which lags behind much of the rest of the country:

If this road was opened, it would have encouraged Indian industry to invest in production hubs in our under-developed north-eastern states to make goods meant for export to China. Our economies would have thrived.

Although New Delhi's unwillingness to rebuild its portion of the Stilwell Road is a major setback to pan-Asian transport integration, China will likely continue to increase its connectivity with the rest of South Asia, especially Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Earlier this week, the Nepalese government recently approved the launch of direct flights between Kathmandu and Kunming. The thrice-weekly flights will be plied by China Eastern Airlines and will make Kunming the third mainland city after Beijing and Guangzhou to have direct air links with the Nepalese capital.

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In connection with this, an interesting story from today's FT:

Chinese essay sparks outcry in India

By James Lamont in New Delhi and Kathrin Hille in Beijing

Published: August 12 2009

Indian academics are up in arms over what they regard as provocative incitement of the country's demise by a Chinese essayist.

"China can dismember the so-called 'Indian Union' with one little move!" claimed the essay posted last week on China International Strategy Net, a patriotic website focused on strategic issues. The writer, under the pseudonym Zhanlue (strategy in Chinese), argued that India's sense of national unity was weak and Beijing's best option to remove an emerging rival and security threat would be to support separatist forces, like those in Assam, to bring about a collapse of the Indian federal state.

"There cannot be two suns in the sky," wrote Zhanlue. "China and India cannot really deal with each other harmoniously." The article suggested that India should be divided into 20 to 30 sovereign states.

Such was the outcry about the article that the Indian government issued a statement reassuring the country that relations with China were calm.

"The article in question appears to be an expression of individual opinion and does not accord with the officially stated position of China on India-China relations conveyed to us on several occasions, including at the highest level, most recently by State Councillor Dai Bingguo during his visit to India last week," the foreign ministry in New Delhi said in a statement, referring to mutual pledges to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The publication of the article coincided with talks between Beijing and New Delhi over disputed Himalayan border areas. Earlier this year, China held up funding for an Asian Development Bank project in Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state claimed by China as "south Tibet". India has also banned some Chinese imports as it tries to protect its economy from the global downturn.

Officials in Beijing and Delhi hew to rival visions of the future, each seeing themselves as pursuing the more durable political and social model of development. The presumption in New Delhi is that China's unified, one-party state is bound to break down.

DS Rajan, director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, brought the essay to his countrymen's attention. "It has generally been seen that China is speaking in two voices," he said. "Its diplomatic interlocutors have always shown understanding during their dealings with their Indian counterparts, but its selected media is pouring venom on India in their reporting."

China International Strategy Net is run by Kang Lingyi, who took part in hacking into US government websites in 1999 following US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Sites such as his are part of the Communist party's strategy to allow nationalism to grow to strengthen its political legitimacy.

Just for the record this stupid essay has been floating on the internet with no name attributed since 2005. Make you wonder the wonders of the India "Free" press. Sound very familiar with any student of history aware of the Weltpolitik of another age.

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