China holds live-fire drills in disputed Himalayan territory, tells India to withdraw

A Chinese soldier, left, talks to an Indian soldier at the Nathu La border crossing between India and China in India's northeastern Sikkim state. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 July 2017
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China holds live-fire drills in disputed Himalayan territory, tells India to withdraw

BEIJING: China renewed a call for India to immediately withdraw its troops from disputed territory high in the Himalayan mountains, following a report that Chinese forces recently held live firing drills in the region.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that Indian forces had to leave the area to avoid an “escalation of the situation.”
“We have stated many times that we hope the Indian side will get a clear understanding of the situation (and) immediately take measures to withdraw the troops that illegally crossed the border back to the Indian side of the border,” Lu said at a regular news briefing Tuesday.
Beijing and New Delhi have engaged in more than a month of saber-rattling as officials from both sides talk of a potential clash even bloodier than their 1962 war that left thousands dead.
Lu’s comments came after Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported late last week that an army brigade equipped with rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and mortars recently practiced a simulated live-firing assault on an enemy position in Tibet. The drills also involved tracking and targeting enemy aircraft, the report said.
The current standoff is in the southernmost part of Tibet in an area also claimed by Indian ally Bhutan, although the report did not say exactly when or where the drills took place.
The slow-motion crisis is expected to be discussed when Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visits Beijing on July 27-28 to take part in a security forum under the BRICS group of large developing nations that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
However, with nationalist sentiments among the public running high in both nations, neither side is expected to back down before the bitter Himalayan winter arrives in a few months, according to experts.
China insists Indian troops withdraw before talks can take place to settle what has become the longest protracted standoff in recent years between nuclear-armed neighbors who share a 3,500-kilometer (2,174-mile) border, much of it contested.
The most recent dispute flared in June after Chinese teams began building a road onto the Doklam, or Donglang in Chinese, Plateau that is claimed by both China and Bhutan, which cooperates closely with India on security matters.
Although China and Bhutan have been negotiating the precise border for decades without serious incident, the tiny Himalayan kingdom turned this time to help from New Delhi, which sent troops across the border from the northeastern state of Sikkim.
China retaliated by closing a nearby mountain pass that Indian pilgrims use to reach Mount Kailash, a sacred Hindu and Buddhist site in Tibet. China’s foreign ministry has also presented to reporters historical documents that it says prove China’s claims to the plateau.
Although the Doklam Plateau is not part of Indian territory, New Delhi has been particularly sensitive to Chinese building activity in a region with strategic significance.


Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

Updated 45 min ago
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Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

  • President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure
  • The Trans-Amazonian highway was inaugurated in the 1970s but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers were paved
BRASILIA: Brazil will add the Trans-Amazonian Highway to the list of projects for privatization, its infrastructure minister said on Tuesday, seeking new investment to pave part of a dictatorship-era roadway already blamed for extensive deforestation.
The road concession will be added to a priority list for privatization at a meeting next month, Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Freitas told Reuters in an interview.
The government will package a short section of highway with a concession to run a major section of BR-163, a key northern route for shipping Brazilian grains, a ministry spokesman said later on Tuesday. The 40-km (25-mile) section of the Trans-Amazonian up for privatization will connect BR-163 with the river port of Miritituba in northern state of Para, the spokesman said.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure, which raises costs and causes delays for the commodity-exporting powerhouse, by seeking private investors to operate dozens of road, rail and airport projects.
On Monday, government Secretary Adalberto Vasconcelos, who has been tasked with creating public-private infrastructure partnerships, said the country would privatize more airports and secure new investment for railways.
For roadways, five concessions are slated for auction this year with a long pipeline of projects to follow, according to Freitas. BR-262/381 in the state of Minas Gerais, sometimes called the “Road of Death” because its poor condition has contributed to lethal accidents, will also be put on the privatization list next month, he said.
The Trans-Amazonian highway, officially known as BR-230, was inaugurated in the 1970s under Brazil’s military dictatorship, but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers (1,864-miles) were paved and much of the existing roadway has fallen into disrepair. It stretches from the coastal state of Paraiba deep into Amazonas state. Original plans for it to reach the border with Peru were never completed.
Nevertheless, research by Brazil’s space agency and academics has linked the road to a rise in deforestation, and road improvements allowing easier access deep into the Amazon have consistently led to increased deforestation nearby.
He said that major construction firms that were implicated in corruption schemes remain unable to participate in public auctions for infrastructure projects, but could act as subcontractors for winners of concession auctions.
Engineering conglomerates Odebrecht SA and Andrade Gutierrez SA, both implicated in corruption schemes to fix contracts, signed leniency deals with the government admitting guilt and agreeing to cooperate, which allows them to contest government contracts. Companies linked to corruption but without such leniency deals may be subject to legal challenges.
“They are companies that have know-how, companies with engineering (ability), companies that can provide good services,” Freitas said.