by Saurabh Dubey

Read Part 1 of this article here

At this moment China is doing what it does best, buying time in prolonged consultation on a faceoff it fermented looking to stretch the facile ‘talks’ right down till winter arrives to lock this dispute in its favour. This would leave only one option for India, dislodge the PLA militarily. To make matters more interesting for India, China could snap its fingers and order its iron brother to perform some bigger tricks at the LOC. The more we wait, the more we could lose. We are in the fourth month of this Chinese engineered drama, unlike Doklam, they have come too far and held on too long to just give up their advantage (The PLA has amassed troops and equipment over the five kilometre stretch from Finger 5 to Finger 8). In hindsight, even at Doklam, the Chinese backed off but subsequently bulked up around its adjoining areas.

Even after the ‘disengagement’ at Doklam, the PLA started something we should have anticipated in advance. They started bolstering their defences around the adjoining areas of Doklam to avoid another 72-day standoff next time, and instead try again to devour Doklam in its entirety. Satellite images publicly available in the media from 2019 showed frenetic construction on the reverse slope of the Doklam plateau near China’s Yatong and Tsona sectors. China had constructed many hard-standing structures some even resembling as hangars and other facilities which can be used for storage, vehicle parking and troop accommodation. Presently, Doklam is connected to India only through the Tri junction-Bheem base-Dokala route, which was completed in 2018. The BRO is planning to construct another motorable road on the Flag Hill-Dokala route by March 2021. In similar vein, over a dozen more strategic roads have been slated to be completed by next year, which ideally should have been done decades ago. India has been late in boosting its border area infrastructure, however, we are on the right track with the all-weather Zojila Tunnel coming up (literally acting as an underground bridge to seamlessly traverse between LAC and LOC to keep a check on the incursions by nefarious neighbours) and Rohtang Tunnel (cutting through the Pir Panjal range to allow access beyond Rohtang Pass even in peak winters). Evidently, more such strategic roads and tunnels are needed on a war footing, because what’s happening on the other side of the LAC is going to be difficult to match, given its sheer scale and pace.

China has amassed superior troop/equipment manoeuvring and mobilizing capabilities on their side of the LAC which can afford them the opportunity to initiate another faceoff in the future. The strategic infrastructure of dual use rail and air links that they had already begun working on since 2014 will provide them a solid platform for more pin pricks at multiple points across the LAC. In the Tibetan Autonomous Region, a third new terminal on the Lhasa-Gongga route and Ngari-Gunsa route is coming up which will be a dual use airport. Work is also underway in Southern Tibet on additional airports in the areas of Dingri near Nepal border and also at Lhoka and Burung close to Arunachal and Bhutan borders respectively. Ten new airports are coming up in Xinjiang, including the one in Yutian county which stands out as it is adjacent to Chinese occupied Aksai Chin.

Barely a few days before the PLA’s incursions in the Galwan Valley, China had completed the blasting of all 47 tunnels on the 435 km rail line linking Lhasa to Nyingchi in TAR. Why the mention of this rail link should raise eyebrows? The Lhasa-Nyingchi link is one of the four sections of the Sichuan-Tibet railway envisioned to connect Lhasa to Chengdu in 15 hours which could eventually be connected with Yadong which overlooks Sikkim and the Chumbi Valley the site of the previous Doklam standoff as well as Nielamu (Gyirong) near the Nepal border via Xigaze prefecture. China has even defiled the periphery around Mount Kailash by building military installations backed by deployment of surface to air missiles (SAM).

As of this April, China had already built 119 of the 120 bridges and laid about 115 km of the tracks. When it is made operational by early 2021, it is projected to enhance tourism, or more ominously it could be used to ferry PLA soldiers rather than tourists from their base in Lhasa to Nyingchi, close to Arunachal Pradesh. The Sichuan-Tibet and the Yunnan-Tibet rail lines, currently under construction, come close to India’s Eastern frontiers. A web of strategic railway lines and string of dual use airports perniciously close to India’s North Eastern borders could very well be another Himalayan challenge that India might have to face much sooner than later.

Saurabh Dubey tracks military and aerospace issues closely. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN