India has opened its longest bridge in the country’s northeast to strengthen its defenses close to a disputed border with China.
The bridge is one of several projects whose construction has been sped up to make it easier for troops and artillery to travel to Arunachal Pradesh state, in the Himalayas.
China claims the state as its territory. It calls the area South Tibet.
The 9.15-kilometer-long Dhola Sadiya Bridge crosses over the Brahmaputra River. It has been designed to carry the weight of 60-ton battle tanks. The bridge connects Arunachal Pradesh with the northeastern state of Assam. Construction began in 2011.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the bridge on the day marking his third year in office. He did not talk about possible military uses for the bridge. He said instead that the area will benefit from the bridge. He said it would speed up economic development in both Arunachal Pradesh and Assam states and would help tens of thousands of farmers sell their crops in new markets.
Since he took office in 2014, Modi has worked to increase the country’s economic growth through infrastructure projects. They include several projects in border regions of northeastern states that the government says are needed to strengthen India’s defenses.
For many years, India did not improve infrastructure in the region because it believed Chinese troops would use it in a war to gain access to areas of India.
Indian and Chinese troops clashed briefly in 1962. Negotiations have taken place since then, but parts of their border are still disputed.
Dipankar Banerjee is a security expert and former Indian major general. He says that, in the past, experts believed that if India built roads close to the border then the roads “could perhaps be used for (an) offensive purpose by either side. So there was some constraint on building roads.”
India hopes to complete a two-lane road by next year to a border area in Arunachal Pradesh, where all military supplies must now be transported by helicopter.
Building the road near steep Himalayan mountains has been a difficult engineering problem. Some road-building equipment had to be transported to the area by helicopters.
India is also improving landing runways for large military aircraft.
Indian experts say the projects will help India in its efforts to match the large transportation network China has built on its side of the border. Banerjee says “China has got much better infrastructure -- that is one of the major issues.”
Recently, Home Minister Rajnath Singh called on troops guarding the border to guard against Chinese attacks.
“We want peace, but peace with honor. We need to be capable of deterring anyone who may think we are weak,” Singh told members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police force that guards parts of the border with China.
Ties between the two countries have worsened in the past year. Last month, China strongly criticized a visit by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh. It warned that the visit would harm relations with India.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Correspondent Anjana Pasricha reported this story from New Delhi. We also used reporting from the BBC. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
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Words in This Story
infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region or organization to function properly
region – n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way
constraint – n. something that limits or restricts someone or something
deter – v. to prevent (something) from happening