BEIJING — China broke through on a road tunnel Wednesday that will link its last isolated county to the national highway system.
In this photo released by China's Xinhua news agency, the portal of Galongla Tunnel is decorated in Metok, China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010. China broke through the the 2-mile (3.3-kilometer) road tunnel Wednesday that will link its last isolated county of Metok to the national highway system, another development project drawing Tibet closer to the rest of the country. Galongla Tunnel was built at an altitude of 12,300 feet (3,750 meters), the state-run Xinhua said. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Chogo)
Workers danced, cheered and tossed each other in the air after blasting through the last part of a tunnel that connects the Tibetan county of Metok to China's major thoroughfare, China Central Television footage showed Wednesday.
Metok borders the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its territory. The news of the tunnel breakthrough aired shortly before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in New Delhi for a three-day visit and talks with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh.
Talks are expected to include the lingering and sensitive border dispute.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency said the 2-mile (3.3-kilometer) Galongla Tunnel was built at an altitude of 12,300 feet (3,750 meters).
Rough conditions that include elevation drops from the Himalayas to tropical rivers cut off the county about nine months of the year.
Xinhua said the highway connection will be complete a year from now.
The report said Metok county in eastern Tibet has a population of 11,000.
China has spent 140 billion yuan ($20 billion) on development in Tibet since 2001, but critics say much of the money has gone to projects that benefit Chinese companies and migrants, while fueling resentment of Beijing's rule among impoverished Tibetans.
Key among development projects are ones that link Tibet to the rest of China.
Tibet's fifth civil airport opened in November, and China in January announced plans to build the world's highest airport in Tibet by 2011, the 14,553-foot (4,436-meter) Nagqu Dagring Airport.
At least six new railway lines in and around Tibet are in the works.
Critics worry the rush into Tibet could wreck much of the high-altitude region's ecosystem, and an influx of the majority ethnic Han Chinese threatens its Buddhist culture and traditional way of life.
Tourists are part of the increasing traffic. The region had 5.6 million tourists last year, Padma Choling, chairman of the Tibet autonomous regional government, told Xinhua in March.