Experts say these expansions fit into a South China Sea-like strategy, which suggests Beijing plans to aggressively pursue its western territorial claims

New Delhi: In the midst of its massive military build-up along the Line of Actual Control, China is building heliports close to its borders with India.

This includes one heliport near Doklam, which lies on the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan — the site of the 73-day stand-off that took place between the two Asian powers in 2017.

The development comes to light at a time when satellite images have surfaced showing China also building a new surface-to-air missile location to cover a critical gap in its air defence.

This also comes amid reports of a fresh clash between the Indian and Chinese troops on the intervening night of 29 August and 30 August on the southern bank of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh.

Anonymous open source satellite imagery expert @detresfa_ worked together to take a detailed look at the heliport development in Doklam.

Satellite image by @detresfa_ | Twitter

Heliports Under Construction In Eastern Ladakh Too

According to information by @detresfa_, the Chinese are also constructing two new heliports in eastern Ladakh — one in Tianshuihai, which is near the Galwan Valley and the Aksai Chin region, and the other in Rutog County, which is near the northern bank of Pangong Tso.

China has also continued construction activities on its side of the LAC in the western sector, even though it is involved in talks with India to de-escalate.

There has been no movement in disengagement talks since July.

According to sources in the security and defence establishment, the construction is meant to provide back-up for the thousands of troops China has moved forward near Ladakh, and also into the Indian side, and may also be a possible pressure tactic.

China’s withdrawal in July from near the Y Junction in the Galwan Valley, which is on the Indian side, is seen more as a fallout of the Galwan river’s rising water level making its troops’ stay untenable, rather than any sincere effort to disengage.

China’s Larger Strategy

Sim Tack, an analyst with the geopolitical intelligence platform Stratfor, who works closely with @detresfa_, said: “What the new imagery shows is the likely construction of a base that will support regional helicopter operations. It is very similar in size and layout to some other facilities that China has built in recent years, including several in and around the disputed Ladakh territory.”

Tack added that the heliport appears to be part of a broader Chinese effort to upgrade and expand military facilities along the Tibetan plateau.

“These have also included new airbases, or expansions of airbases, and many new air defence positions,” said Tack, who has been closely studying the developments along the LAC.

He added that all these different expansions fit into a larger strategy, similar to the Chinese infrastructure development in the South China Sea.

“It suggests that Beijing plans to more aggressively pursue its territorial claims along its western border,” he said.

@detresfa_ added that the steady build-up of support infrastructure by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in areas which have a history of clashes and disputed territorial claims, demonstrates the long-term Chinese ambitions.

“With the addition of a heliport along with the aerial denial systems within 100 km from Doka La and Naku La, China would be able to sustain all weather operations in the disputed areas regardless of the harsh terrain and conditions,” he said.