Officials, businessmen and media people from both China and India gathered at Nathu la Pass along the border between China' Tibet and India's Sikkim Thursday to hold a grand ceremony of resuming border trade after a standstill of 44 years.
WIRED FENCE REPLACED BY PASSAGEWAY
Wired fences, used to block the two sides, have been replaced by the 20-meter-long stone-walled passageway. At its both ends banners were hung high for the reopening border trade ceremony.
Six km down from Nathu La Pass, 4,545 meters above the sea level, lies a small village named Sherathang, now the main business hub for Chinese to trade the commodities in Indian side. In an area of 3.24 hectares, 29 tin sheds have been built to hold offices for customs, immigration and quarantine, security post, post office, a telecommunication center and a branch of the State Bank of India.
China has placed its trade mart at Renqinggang, some 10 km from Nathu La Pass in Chinese side.
"This is the beginning of a new era of hope and prosperity and the improving of bilateral ties between both nations,"Qiangba Puncog, Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, said in his remarks at the ceremony.
On the same occasion, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling said,"this is not just a trade route, but a cultural highway. It will take India-China trade to new heights."
A Chinese delegation of about 100 Tibetan businessmen has crossed over the pass to the Indian side while a group of 100 Indian traders visited the trade mart at Renqinggang.
According to the agreements between the two countries, the normal trade will begin at Nathu La Pass on June 1 each year and continue till Sept. 30 before the heavy snow and freezing weather makes the pass impassable.
During the trading season, the pass will open from Monday to Thursday each week from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
"A total of 100 traders and 60 trucks carrying goods will be allowed to operate from either side of the border," said Saman Prasad Subba, Director of Industries of Sikkim.
According to Chinese ambassador to India Sun Yuxi, China expects the border will soon open for tourists and a bus service from Gangtok, the state capital of Sikkim, to Lhasa, capital of Tibet, will open very soon. PROFITABLE FUTURE WELCOMED BY INDIANS
"We are so happy today as we have looked forward to it long before," said Mamhjer, 47-year-old Sikkimese merchant and one of Indian businessmen to visit Yadong in Tibet through Nathu La Pass Thursday.
Mamhjer's family has done business with Tibet for generations. His parents had once lived in Yadong for five years and his elder sister was born there.
"My papa passed away last year, otherwise he would be with me to go to Yadong today," Mamhjer said, adding that his father had been excited and planned to go back to Yadong a few years ago when the news of reopening first spread.
The volume of trade would increase by at least 15-20 percent in next two years, according to the research of the Sikkim government.
As the trade progresses, the two countries are going to look at the feasibility of upgrading the tradable items though now only 44 items of commodities are allowed through Nathu La Pass and India only issues trade permits to local Sikkimese residents.
"The reopening of border trade is seen as an instrument for economic development for this region," Chamling said.
In Gangtok many people are very much curious about China and show great interest in shopping Chinese goods which are less expensive with good quality.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi where conservatives were concerned about defense security related to Nathu La Pass reopening, some agreed with local residents in Sikkim.
"India and China should have resumed the border trade at Nathu La Pass earlier. The world is different now. Who wants a war?" said Vijay Kumar, an Indian businessmen in New Delhi having traded iron ore with China for a long time.
Nathu La Pass reopening also make it possible to build a trade corridor linking northwest China, even central Asia, to the Indian Ocean as the Qinghai-Tibet railway happens to start operation on July 1.
"The smooth corridor will benefit both China and India and help make a close cooperative mechanism between the two countries," said Srikanth Kondapalli, expert with India's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.
HISTORY CASTS ITS SHADOW
For centuries, Chinese and Indian merchants had shipped Chinese silk, tea and Indian jewelry, spices in and out of Nathu La Pass, an old trade point along the Silk Road.
In the early twentieth century, the trade volume here had once accounted for 80 percent of the total trade volume between the two countries.
But the pass had become a heavily guarded border after the border dispute between the two countries since 1962.
It is heavily guarded even now. It took about 3 hours to drive 50 km from Gangtok to Nathu La Pass passing seven army checkpoints. All the way there are cantonments.
The reopening of Nathu La Pass was first raised when then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee visited China in 2003. The proposal was strongly opposed by Indian military circles.
The new cabinet of India, taking office in 2004, had not nodded on the reopening due to security concerns till mid last year.