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China digging in for long haul in Ladakh

February 12, 2022 12:48 IST
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The Chinese have been rapidly building defence infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control indicating that they are preparing for a long period of tension with India, points out Jayadeva Ranade, the former senior RA&W officer and China expert.

IMAGE: Lieutenant General Anindya Sengupta, commander of the Fire and Fury Corps, which guards India's borders with China and Pakistan, lays a wreath at the war memorial in Leh. Photograph: ANI Photo

While all may appear quiet on our northern front, much is happening behind the scenes.

Since last summer's visit to Tibet by Xi Jinping -- the first by him as president -- the Chinese authorities have been rapidly building defence infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control indicating that they are preparing for a long period of tension with India.

Construction of all the planned 624 'xiaokang' model well-off border defence villages, which had been accelerated, was announced to have been completed on January 7, 2022.

The living conditions of the troops are also being improved, indicating plans for the long-term, or even permanent, presence of the People's Liberation Army.

Apparently to compensate for the limited capabilities of aircraft at the high altitudes of the Tibetan plateau, a number of airports are now being rapidly built across the region.

Already, thirty airports are reportedly under construction on the Tibetan plateau and Xinjiang.

Now, a late January report reveals that Qinghai province -- part of the original Tibet -- plans to construct 10 new airports by 2025, with at least one airport in each county. In addition, the construction of 9 new airports, which began in 2017, is to be completed by 2030.

Some of these are strategically located like those in Medok, Nyingtri (opposite Arunachal Pradesh); Dromo county, Shigatse (across Yadong); Purang county, Ngari (bordering Uttarakhand); and Kyirong (on the border with Nepal).

The others too are in Lhasa and near the borders with India. Construction of an additional 5 airports is planned to begin in 2022.

The Chinese authorities have also been fanning out across the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), exhorting the people at key points along the LAC to maintain border security and strengthen defences.

In January this year, the recently appointed chairman of the TAR people's government, Yan Jinhai, while speaking to delegates from the Lhasa and Ngari districts, emphasised the importance of defending the border.

He specifically told the delegates from Ngari (Chinese: Ali) -- opposite Ladakh -- to pay close attention to protecting the 'soil and the border'.

More recently, the highest ranking official of TAR, Party Secretary Wang Junzheng, did much the same.

He told officials and border guards at the trading post at Kyirong on the China-Nepal border, as well as at Shigatse, the headquarters of the military district which oversees Yadong, the Chumbi Valley and Doklam areas, to resolutely defend the 'southwestern border of the motherland' and 'build indestructible steel-like border barriers'.

The TAR party secretary also visited the Pangong lake Border Police Station, where the Chinese authorities are building a bridge across the lake, and asked the border guards to 'stick to their post in the ice and snow', stressing that border security in Tibet is tantamount to national security.

In an unusual move, China's official media publicised a meeting of the Tibet Military Region Party Committee held in Lhasa on January 17.

Such meetings are not regularly reported. Speaking at the meeting, the TAR party secretary 'expressed his gratitude and respect to the officers and soldiers who have been fighting in the snow-covered plateau for a long time.'

He stressed that Xi Jinping attaches great importance to army building in Tibet and that in the past year, the ability of the officers and soldiers to prepare for war had been strengthened.

He asked the soldiers and officers to 'faithfully perform their duties of defending the country and guarding the borders' and reiterated Xi Jinping's 'orders to prepare for war'.

A couple of days later, the Metok (Chinese: Medog) County Party Committee held its Economic Work Conference where two of the four agenda items focussed on national security and strengthening the border. (Metok county is strategically located on the border with Arunachal Pradesh and is also the site of the proposed dam -- envisaged to be the world's largest -- on the Great Bend of the Brahmaputra river.)

Speaking at the meeting, Metok County Party Secretary Wei Changqi reiterated the importance of 'keeping an eye on the front line and building a steel Great Wall that guards the border'.

He said it was important to implement a 'push forward strategy' and urged 'the transfer of people in the central areas to the front line', while emphasising the need to speed up the construction of settlements in the border areas, and ensure that the people move into new homes as soon as possible.

These activities, in addition to the other indicators, imply there will be negligible forward movement at the ongoing army commander-level talks on disengagement and similarly on resolution of the India-China border.

They suggest that the PLA intends to remain at its present locations and be prepared for further military operations.

Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is the President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
You can read Mr Ranade's earlier columns here

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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