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India, China Reopen Historic Border Pass After 44 Years 

  • Anjana Pasricha

More than four decades after fighting a bitter border war, China and India have resumed trade along an ancient Himalayan route. The reopening of the remote border pass is the latest sign of warming relations between the two Asian giants.

Soldiers and traders cheered and military bands played as Indian and Chinese officials cut a red ribbon Thursday to mark the opening of the Nathu La Pass, perched on the border between India's tiny Sikkim state and China's Tibet region.

Swirling mist and a steady drizzle along the 4,300-meter-high pass did not deter enthusiastic businessmen from crossing the border to attend trade fairs on either side.

Sikkim's Chief Minister Pawan Chamling noted that the opening of the pass would revive a centuries-old trade link.

The pass was once part of the famous Silk Road, which linked ancient civilizations in India and China, and continued on to Central Asia and Europe.

It is being reopened in the aftermath of steadily improving ties between the two countries, whose relations were marked with mutual suspicions for decades after they fought a brief but bitter border war in 1962.

Trade along the Nathu La pass will initially be modest, but officials estimate it could grow to $3 billion in ten years, if the two sides develop roads and infrastructure. Modern banking and customs facilities have already been established along the pass.

Alka Acharya, a China expert at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says the increased trade will spur development and help end the isolation of this high Himalayan region.

"Ultimately this is going to bring a certain amount of prosperity to the region. People in very remote areas will have access to a range of commercial goods, entrepreneurs will flock to this region," said Acharya.

India will export items ranging from textiles to food products. China will send across items such as goat and sheep skin, silk and wool.

India-China trade grew to nearly $19 billion last year amid a steady push by the two countries for greater commercial links, and a desire to tap their combined consumer market of more than 2.3 billion people.

Political analysts say the growing economic ties are helping the two normalize their relationship despite their failure to resolve outstanding boundary issues.

"It signifies the level of confidence that the two countries have begun to repose in each other's intention regarding… commitment to a border settlement," said China expert Alka Acharya.

China only recognized Sikkim, where the Nathu La Pass is located, as part of India last year. Officials are working to resolve border disputes that arise from claims to each other's territory.

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