- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

BEIJING — China and India have agreed to reopen border trade at the historic Nathu-la pass after more than 40 years, a symbol of rapprochement of Asian giants that fought a Himalayan war in 1962.

The pass, at an altitude of about 14,100 feet, will open on July 6 and handle trade between the tiny northeast Indian state of Sikkim and southern Tibet, China’s Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

“The reopening of border trade will help end economic isolation in this area and play a key role in boosting the market economy there,” Tibet Vice-Chairman Hao Peng said in comments carried by Xinhua.

The agreement to reopen the ancient Silk Road route was the latest sign of warming relations between the world’s most populous countries.

China now recognizes Sikkim, a former Buddhist kingdom, as part of Indian territory. And although much of their 2,200-mile border remains disputed, last year they agreed to settle the issue politically.

Bilateral trade grew to $18.7 billion in 2005, up 37.5 percent from the previous year, Chinese figures show.

With the new pass, iron ore and livestock products from India and wool, herbs and electric appliances from China could be transported over the narrow, mountainous border road, Mr. Hao said.

Sikkim’s government has yet to win approval from New Delhi for a highway from Nathu-la to western India that could further boost trade.

But pressure is building from China, as it tries to boost economic development and extend political control to remote Tibet, which its troops invaded in 1950 to cement communist rule.

It was not immediately clear if the increased commercial traffic would extend to the flow of people across the border.

“We hope that this will allow Tibetans in Tibet to visit their relatives in India and also Tibetans in exile to visit their near and dear ones in Tibet,” said Thubten Samphel, spokesman for Tibet’s government-in-exile in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

The passes between Sikkim and Tibet were once part of the Silk Road, a network of trails that connected ancient China with India, Western Asia and Europe.

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