Friday, October 05, 2018

India’s Sikkim airport borders China in sign of Modi’s intent

When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently inaugurated the country’s 100th operational airport in the northeastern state of Sikkim, nestled in the Himalayan range, he took pains to mention what an engineering marvel it was. What he commented on more obliquely, however, was the strategic advantage the Pakyong airport provides, given Sikkim’s proximity to the Chinese border and his administration’s desire to cement the state’s bond with the rest of the country.
“Work is progressing at a high pace to strengthen both infrastructural and emotional connectivity to Sikkim and [India’s] northeast,” said Modi, who has placed a special focus on India’s north-eastern states to prevent them from slipping out of political control.
Though Modi did not openly mention China in his inaugural address, the premier peppered his remarks with the importance of boosting connectivity with Sikkim. The state, which is on the Chinese border, became part of India in 1975 through a referendum. Though China rejected the referendum’s outcome at the time, it notably scaled down its territorial claims over Sikkim in the mid-2000s.
The stated purpose of the Pakyong airport, built at a cost of US$68.7 million, is to boost tourism, give impetus to trade and kick-start fresh economic activity in the region – but it is also firmly aligned with New Delhi’s aim of bolstering the federal government’s grip on the state. The Modi administration has also been focusing on improving infrastructure ventures in areas bordering China as a broader policy initiative.
05/10/18 Vasudevan Sridharan/South China Morning Post