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China accuses India over Nathu La trade

By Anil K Joseph in Beijing
August 11, 2006 12:37 IST

China has accused India of erecting unilateral and restrictive trade barriers at the strategic Nathu La trade market which was opened last month with much fanfare after a 44-year hiatus.

"India has unilaterally imposed restrictions on trade through Nathu La," vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Hao Peng, said in Tibet' s capital Lhasa on Thursday.

Hao told a group of visiting Indian journalists hosted by the Chinese government that the border trade through Nathu La is running at a 'low level' and was 'not ideal.'

Hao complained that a mere 15 Chinese items have been permitted to enter the Indian market from the Chinese side.

At the same time, the Indian government has allowed the export of only 29 items from India to China.

When China opened a trade mart at Renqinggang, some 16 km from the Nathu La Pass, India opened the Changgu mart in neighbouring Sikkim. However, while Indian business people can stay at China's Renqinggang mart, Chinese traders cannot spend the night at the Indian mart, Hao noted.

"Trade at the Renqinggang mart is currently less than 100,000 yuan ($12,500) per week, far less than we had expected," Hao was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

China does not impose any restrictions on cross-border trade except for illegal items, and hostels have been built to accommodate Indian traders, he said.

"I hope the Indian government will adopt a more egalitarian approach to cross-border trade with China," he said.

China and India reopened border trade through the Nathu La Pass on July 6, 44 years after a border conflict closed down the ancient "Silk Road".

The border trade route was reopened as India and China designated 2006 as the year of Sino-Indian friendship.

The Nathu La Pass sits 4,545 meters above sea level and is wedged between Yadong County in Tibet's Xigaze Prefecture and India's Sikkim.

Currently, more than 90 per cent of trade between China and India transited by sea, and via Tianjin -- a port city some 120 km from Beijing but nearly 4,400 kilometres from Lhasa.

With the reopening of the Nathu La Pass, it is only 1,200 km by land from Lhasa to Calcutta, a major Indian coastal city, the official news agency reported, indicating Beijing's keenness to transport Chinese goods to South Asia region.

Chinese analysts consider the reopening of the trade route to be an important development in Sino-Indian relations and expect the two sides to develop political trust as well as trade and economic relations.

The pass will help shape a major land trade route linking China with South Asia and reduce transportation costs, an international studies specialist with Qinghua University in Beijing, Liu Jiangyong said.

Trade through the Nathu La Pass accounted for 80 per cent of total cross-border trade between China and India in the early 1900s. But after their border conflict in 1962, the two countries closed their customs points at the former border markets.

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Anil K Joseph in Beijing