Apart from the arms race in Asia, India and China are also striving to win the border infrastructure race, which will ensure military advantage along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC).
While China has been extremely efficient in building infrastructure in the region, India also added another feather in its cap with the inauguration of the Atal Tunnel in the Himalayan region connecting Manali to Leh (Ladakh).
It is not only the world’s longest highway tunnel but also holds strategic importance for India bringing the conflicted LAC closer.
China, however, has displayed its displeasure at the inauguration of the tunnel. The tunnel will greatly assist Indian soldiers and their provision of supplies in peacetime; however, it will have no benefit in during a war, especially if an armed conflict breaks out between India and China wrote state media, Global Times (GT) in its editorial.
The report further says that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has the capability to threaten this tunnel (during a conflict) and make unserviceable.
Galwan & Doklam Clash
Interestingly, the major reason behind the clashes that erupted in June between India and China has also been the construction of a road in the Galwan region. Although, this wasn’t the first time. In 2017, the Doklam standoff was also triggered by the Chinese PLA trying to build infrastructure in the Bhutan controlled plateau.
Beijing has accused India of continuously building roads in the disputed region. New Delhi has also claimed that the Chinese troops had been laying a network of fibre optic cables at a western Himalayan flashpoint with India. However, the claim has been vehemently rejected by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“Based on the two sides’ consensus, no side should engage in the border areas in any activities that might complicate the situation by undermining efforts by the two sides to ease the situation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last month. He further said that China doesn’t recognize the Union Territory of Ladakh “illegally established by India, and opposes infrastructure construction in disputed border areas for military control purposes”.
“The origin of the clashes is in this arms race surrounding infrastructure development by both sides,” said Yun Sun, a senior fellow and director of the Washington-based Stimson Center’s China programme, in a webinar organised by the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
“Both sides are trying to use infrastructure development to strengthen and enhance their tactical advantage,” she said.
Another point of contention between India and China is the expansion of the Daulat Beg Oldi road which is an all-weather condition road, usable all-round the year and is only 20 km from the Karakoram Pass and is parallel to the LAC with China in eastern Ladakh.
On the other side, the PLA has built networks of roads, military bases and railway lines along the border region. As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, surface-to-air missiles and state-of-the-art fighter jets have also been deployed at Ngari Gunsa Airport.
The airport is located at an altitude of 4274 meters above sea level and is only 200 kilometers away from the contentious Pangong Lake.
Defence analyst Rohit Vats told SCMP that India deliberately didn’t make strong border infrastructure, unlike China that started the work in the 1950s. However, the mindset has undergone a change now after India and China are frequently engaging in standoffs along the LAC.
“India realised that this [old mindset] was a double-edged sword because it also ended up impeding its own troop movements and the ability to mobilise troops quickly,” Vats said. He added that New Delhi was likely to push ahead with its infrastructure projects, having previously been pacified into a “false sense of complacency” by the border agreements that the countries signed. “In some ways, China’s actions have woken up a sleeping enemy,” he told SCMP.
The US Warns India
Meanwhile, US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the time has come for New Delhi to accept that dialogue and agreements will not persuade or compel China to change its ways.
“The time has come to accept that dialogue and agreements will not persuade or compel the People’s Republic of China to change. There’s nothing to be gained from looking the other way or turning the other cheek. We’ve been doing that for far too long,” said O’Brien.
“Chinese Communist Party’s territorial aggression is apparent on its Indian border where China has attempted to seize control of the line of actual control by force.” The comments coincide with the statements of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who said on Friday that India was facing a 60,000 troop build-up in eastern Ladakh. Pompeo, who has led the US diplomatic effort against China, was speaking after attending the second Quad ministerial meeting in Tokyo earlier this week.
“The Indians are seeing 60,000 Chinese soldiers on their northern border,” Pompeo was quoted as saying after returning from Tokyo, where he met foreign minister S Jaishankar. “I was with my foreign minister counterparts from India, Australia and Japan, a format we call the Quad, four big democracies, four powerful democracies, four nations each of whom has real risk associated with the threats attempting to be imposed by the Chinese Communist Party. And they see it in their home countries too,” said Pompeo.
These statements from the US comes a few days before the next round of talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders that are expected to be held in Ladakh, on October 12.
According to experts talking to the EurAsian Times, who did not wish to be named, said that ideally, the US would want conflict between India and China to widen so that New Delhi would have no option but to join the US-led Asian block and the QUAD against Beijing.
Be it 60,000 0r 600,000 (Chinese PLA soldiers at the LAC), India has also deployed its troops and defence equipment in proportionate numbers and are capable of matching the Chinese, blow for a blow.
The problem is China is the second-biggest economy on the planet and one of the biggest trading partners of India and a key source of investments in the country. India, at no cost, wants to spoil its ties with China (despite the clashes) while the US, via its statements (no chance of dialogue or 60,000 troops) is making another attempt to get New Delhi on its side and sell more weapons.