Beijing: China has opened a newly constructed terminal – stated to be the biggest in Tibet – at the provincial capital Lhasa, further expanding the transport infrastructure in the strategic Himalayan region and helping it emerge as a global logistics hub for South Asia, the official media here reported on Monday.

Lhasa Gonggar Airport opened its newly constructed Terminal 3 for operations on Saturday, marking a significant milestone in the remote region’s rapid infrastructure development that could significantly boost passenger and cargo transport, state-run Global Times reported.

The airport expansion project was carried out at a cost of USD 603 million, it said, adding that the move would help the region become a global logistics hub for South Asia.

With the new terminal, the airport is expected to meet an annual handling capacity of nine million passengers and 80,000 metric tonnes of cargo, handling more than 75 per cent of the passenger flow of all airports in Tibet, the report said.

Tibet has five airports including at Nyingchi, Shigatse and Ngari located close to the Indian and Nepal borders.

The massive expansion of air, road and rail infrastructure is aimed at boosting civilian and military transportation considering Tibet is located close to Arunachal Pradesh in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet, which is firmly rejected by India. The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The expansion of the Lhasa airport comes after China launched its first high-speed train from Lhasa to Nyingchi, the strategically located Tibetan town situated close to Arunachal Pradesh border, in June.

The newly opened Lhasa-Nyingchi bullet train has already been used for its first military mission early this month by carrying new recruits of a combined arms brigade affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Tibet Military Command to an exercise field, signifying its importance for the Chinese military in moving troops and weapons to the border areas.

On July 23, President Xi Jinping made a rare visit to Nyingchi, becoming the first top Chinese leader to visit the Tibetan border town and travelled to Lhasa by high-speed train. It was also his first visit to Tibet as President.

In recent years, infrastructure construction in Tibet has accelerated with many civil aviation, railways and highway projects, said Liu Zongyi, the secretary-general of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

“This is expected to help build the region into an international logistics hub for South Asia,” Liu told the Global Times.

Since late 2012, China has been stepping up its infrastructure investment in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which has launched 130 air routes, with 61 cities connected by flights.

“The improved infrastructure in Tibet is expected to boost tourism and promote local agricultural and animal husbandry products as many of them rely on cold chains for efficient and fast transportation,” Liu said.

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The expansion of the airport is likely to greatly improve the travel experience and convenience of passengers traveling to and from Tibet, Lin Zhijie, another expert, told the daily.

“The original design capacity of the T2 terminal is only 1 million, which is already overloaded. The operation of T3 with 9 million passenger handling capability can greatly improve the travel experience of passengers and make it more convenient and comfortable for people to fly,” Lin said, adding that the airport will help boost local economic development and improve livelihood in the region.

Lhasa Gonggar Airport was constructed in 1966 as one of the world’s first high-altitude airports and the only international airport in Tibet with international air routes to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

It is expected that more international air routes will be launched in the future in the South Asia region to boost trade and logistics transportation, the daily said.



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