India - China: China Occupying Vacant ‘Defence Villages’ along LAC


India - China: China Occupying Vacant ‘Defence Villages’ along LAC

The Indian Express has learnt Chinese nationals have started occupying several of their model “Xiaokang” border defence villages across India’s north-eastern borders which the country has been building along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)  since 2019.

China has been constructing 628 such “well-off villages” along India’s borders with the Tibet Autonomous Region, including along Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh for over five years now.

While the exact nature of these villages is unclear, the dwellings are understood to be “dual-use infrastructure” — for both civil and military purposes — and seen as a Chinese assertion of its territorial claims along the LAC. They have thus remained a concern for the military.

Sources said the Chinese are building infrastructure all along the LAC bordering the northeast, even as the LAC remains far off from most inhabited areas or areas of importance except for Tawang and the Siliguri Corridor.“They (the Chinese) have  built sufficient infrastructure along the LAC at Tawang, but they are not stopping at that. Even in other areas such as Siang valley of Arunachal Pradesh, we have been seeing rapid development of Chinese infrastructure,” an official said.

The official added that the  Chinese have consistently improved their existing infrastructure including improving their connectivity through passes,  constructing roads and bridges and their model villages. China has also been constructing infrastructure, including border villages, in Bhutanese territory.


India has also stepped up work on its border infrastructure

In the last three to four years, India has also stepped up work on its border infrastructure — this includes improving forward connectivity, constructing alternate routes to the LAC as well as connecting them.

Under the Vibrant Villages programmes, India plans to develop 663 border villages into modern villages with all amenities in the first phase. Of them, at least 17 such villages along the borders with China in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, have been selected for development as a pilot project under the programme.

Infrastructure push in Arunachal Pradesh: In Arunachal Pradesh, villages in the eastern part of the state and in the Tawang region have been identified such as Zemithang, Taksing, Chayang Tajo, Tuting and Kibithu.

Also, in Arunachal Pradesh, three major highways are at different stages of construction: the Trans-Arunachal Highway; the Frontier Highway; and the East-West Industrial Corridor Highway. There are plans to improve connectivity to Tawang with the construction of at least two alternate axes — in addition to the existing one connecting Guwahati  and Tawang.

Earlier, in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang valley, there were roads just till a little ahead of Anini, but now roads are being constructed at all sides of the valley.


Situation on the LAC will remain sensitive

China moving its nationals into villages along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Ladakhi herders confronting soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), writes Maj Gen GG Dwivedi retd. (Former Defence Attaché to China) “sum up the state of affairs on the frontline. The prolonged standoff in Ladakh remains a security concern, even as it has been reported that Indian and Chinese troops were involved in skirmishes between September 2021 and November 2022.”

Even after prolonged negotiations, the Chinese have refused to yield ground in Depsang and Demchok, strategically significant areas.

Also “the process of disengagement has come with new protocols, wherein erstwhile patrolling points (PPs) on the LAC -- depicting the extent of patrolling limits -- have now been replaced by ‘buffer zones’. Of the 65 PPs astride the LAC in Ladakh, 26 are now inaccessible, an aspect which has been flagged by the local police authorities in Leh during security review meetings. In the absence of de-escalation, the ground situation remains tense, with both sides deploying around 50,000 troops each……..”

The PLA, states Maj Gen Dwivedi “is continuing with its ‘nibbling’ tactics, evident from the clash with graziers in Kakjung area of Nyoma in Chushul. The herders were intercepted at the PPs 35-37 in Dungti village by over a dozen PLA personnel, escorted by three armoured vehicles…..”


Massive military infrastructure along the LAC

The “PLA’s grand design can be gauged from the “massive military infrastructure development along the LAC in recent years. Major projects include twin bridges over Pangong Tso; a second national highway, G 695, through Aksai Chin; and the Nyingchi-Lhasa-Xigaze railway line (planned to be further extended to Gyirong and Burang, close to the Nepalese border). All airports in Tibet have been upgraded.

“Further, the PLA is in the process of transforming Tibet into a formidable defence shield, in keeping with the directions of President Xi. To this end, 628 ‘well-off villages’ (Xiaokang) have been constructed; around a third of these are located in close proximity to the LAC. These dwellings are likely to act as the first line of defence; understood to be ‘dual use infrastructure’ — for both civil and military purposes.”

Additionally, “the ‘New Defence Law’ was enacted in 2021 to ensure better ‘civil-military fusion’. A year later, the ‘Border Defence Law’ was passed; it entails marking the borders with a view to consolidating control over the occupied areas. Giving Mandarin names to places in Arunachal Pradesh (Zangnan) and the Indian Ocean Region is part of China’s ‘Three Warfare Strategy’ to legitimise its claims.”

While China has deliberately downplayed the border issue, given its  “expansionist push, it is apparent that the situation on the LAC will remain sensitive. As de-escalation is unlikely in the near future, periodic skirmishes are set to be the new normal…”

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