China is expanding its chain of model villages or Xiaokang (moderately prosperous) villages close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), opposite Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, including in the Chumbi valley which faces the strategically crucial Siliguri corridor, according to defence sources. This is in addition to continuing its infrastructure development and additional deployments along the LAC.
At Pangda in the Chumbi valley, where a Xiaokang village was set up earlier, a new village is coming up spread in two clusters. “While the presence of vehicles in the main cluster reveals its possible occupation, in the other cluster also there is increased vehicle activity and it is likely to be occupied soon,” one source stated, citing intelligence inputs and satellite imagery. In November, land clearing activity was observed close to an existing village about seven kilometres from Bum La, the source stated.
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Similarly, opposite Uttarakhand, the construction of two such villages in the Churup area, located 11 km from the LAC, is nearing completion. Another model village comprising 35-36 dwellings is under construction in Qangze, about 52 km from the LAC, also opposite the middle sector.
Drawing a connection between the Yangtse faceoff and Xiaokang villages, former Adjutant General and 14 Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma (Retd) said on Twitter, “Did the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] troops avail of Xiaokang village in proximity as base for build up for clash at Yangtse? This will give the dual-use nature of these 628 villages established all along the LAC. Then these villages are staging areas for build up.”
Commenting on the situation at Yangtse, Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. R.P. Kalita said on Friday that presently the border areas along the northern frontier are “stable and we are firmly in control.”
Speaking on the occasion of Vijay Diwas, commemorating the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh, Lt. Gen. Kalita said, “It is one of those areas where there is a different perception of the LAC. The PLA patrol had transgressed, which was contested very firmly and resolutely by our forces on ground which led to some amount of physical violence. But it was contained at the local level.”
Citing intelligence inputs, another source said that, in the last three to four months, a large PLA deployment had been observed around the Tsethang camp, which is south east of Lhasa and about 150 km from the LAC opposite Arunachal Pradesh, facing the Army’s 4 Corps area.
Also, a number of tunnels are under construction near the Pangta air field, which are believed to be part of a railway line there, sources said. This is about 160 km from the LAC opposite eastern Arunachal or Rest of Arunachal Pradesh (RALP) as the Army refers to it. The sources added that China is also upgrading roads opposite the upper Subansiri area. Road construction activity is also underway in the Rongto Chu valley opposite Fishtail-1.
New storage sheds protected by blast walls have also been constructed close to the Nyingchi prefecture which is roughly about 25 km from the LAC, one of the sources cited earlier added.
In a race to catch up on infrastructure, India too is engaged in a massive infrastructure build-up and consolidation of positions along the LAC, especially in RALP.
In November 2021, when current Army Chief Gen. Manoj Pande was the Eastern Army Commander, he noted that the Siligiri corridor was very sensitive for India, and said that its geostrategic significance also stemmed from its proximity to the Chumbi valley of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Siliguri corridor is a stretch of land bordering Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, measuring approximately 170 km by 60 km. At its narrowest point, its width is about 20-22 km.
Last month, Gen. Pande said that the situation along the LAC is “stable but unpredictable”. In terms of infrastructure development, that was going on “unabated”, he said, noting that there are roads, helipads and airfields, including roads right up to the passes. The 3,488 km long LAC is divided into the western (Ladakh), middle (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), and eastern (Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim) sectors.
India is also constructing roads, tunnels, caverns and underground ammunition stores along the LAC in the eastern sector. This includes nine tunnels presently under construction, including the strategic 2.5 km Sela tunnel in Tawang at an altitude of 13,000 feet. Another 11 tunnels are planned, as reported by The Hindu earlier. India also plans to construct a 2,000 km Arunachal frontier highway following the McMahon Line. Construction of the road, also known as the Mago-Thingbu-Vijaynagar border highway, is expected to cost ₹40,000 crore.
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