China has been strengthening its military infrastructure along the India-China border in the last couple of decades. On the other hand, India started its infrastructure upgrades on the Indian side of the border much later, especially gathering speed only after 2014.
The Indian side has finished constructing over 1,000 kilometres of road so far, as part of its border project. The India-China border project has three phases, and India is about to complete the first one. The Indian infrastructure catch-up has made China apprehensive. As India goes on developing its border infrastructure, its patrolling capabilities along the LAC have improved considerably, much to the chagrin of China.
Consequently, the border situation has become tense, with the first stand-off occurring on May 5, 2020, when scuffles broke out between Indian and Chinese troops in Pangong-Tso in Ladakh and Naku La in North Sikkim. Both sides suffered injuries.
However, the Chinese started reinforcing troops closer to the LAC, and its aggressive posturing was visible in places including Galwan Valley, Demchok, and Daulat Beg Oldie. Indian troops were mobilised to counter Beijing’s actions. In Galwan Valley, the Chinese also objected to the Indian road construction. The recent stand-off and the subsequent brawl occurred because of building of Chinese observations posts to monitor Indian activities.
The Corp Commander-level talks between Lt. Gen Harinder Singh, the Commander of Indian 14th Corp of Leh, and China’s Major General Liu Lin, Commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region, on June 6, 2020, resulted in a decision to disengage. However, in the process of verifying the promised disengagement, the Indian side found that China did not implement the agreement reached between the two countries. In the aftermath a scuffle broke out between the soldiers of the two countries. While India suffered 20 casualties in the Galwan Valley, the Chinese side reportedly suffered over 45 casualties.
The PLA’s aggressive stance has failed to deter India’s resolve to complete its border roads construction. The ongoing road projects will give the Indian military better connectivity to its forward area called the Sub-Sector North; road links such as the Sasoma to Saser La, would provide the Indian military alternative routes to the DBO. India has already finished its Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road in 2019, and despite the Chinese provocation, India completed a strategic bridge over the Galwan River just after the scuffle of June 15. This bridge would improve Indian military’s access to the LAC and will increase the ability to transport military and combat vehicles.
The current situation remains tense as both sides have reinforced their deployments. From the Chinese side, there appears to be surge of vehicles to sustain supplies for positions that were recently erected in May and June. India, on the other hand, while moving its troops closer to the border, is also expediting the construction of 32 roads along the LAC. The present India-China face-off is expected to continue till China abides by the recent ‘verifiable disengagement’ agreement signed on June 24, 2020.
Script: Dr. M S Prathibha, Strategic Analyst on Chinese Affairs