China, India border tensions escalate

Thousands of troops reportedly move into sensitive areas along Himalayan frontier

Tensions between China and India over their Himalayan border have escalated, with China accused of moving thousands of troops into disputed territory and expanding a military airbase in the disputed region along the eastern Ladakh border, news wires reported.

While the Chinese have set up tents and stationed vehicles and heavy machinery in what India considers to be its territory, the Indian army has moved several battalions from an infantry division usually based in the Ladakh city of Leh to “operational alert areas” along the border, and reinforcement troops have been brought in.

The aggressive military posturing follows two skirmishes between the two sides on 5 and 9 May in the border areas of Pangong Lake and North Sikkim in Ladakh, in which more than 100 soldiers from both sides were injured, The Guardian wrote. The high-altitude border has been aggressively contested and heavily militarised since 1962 when China launched an offensive into Indian territory, sparking a short but bloody war.

According to former Indian ambassador to China Ashok K Kantha, the recent incursions and border aggressions from China were “far from routine occurrences”. “This escalation is serious. I don’t think this is just a localised incident. China’s behaviour is more aggressive this time, backed up by a fairly large number of troops, which is not typical of this border where troop levels tend to be low on both sides. It could be a territorial claim or part of a wider messaging to India that they need to be more mindful of China on sensitive geopolitical issues,” he pointed out.

China’s actions, however, appear to be a response to India’s construction of roads and airstrips adjacent to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which will improve connectivity and enable easier mobility for Indian troops in the area. Construction has paused during the coronavirus lockdown but is due to resume any time soon.

India’s PM Narendra Modi held on Tuesday a meeting with his national security adviser, chief of defence staff and three security chiefs to discuss “bolstering India’s military preparedness to deal with external security challenges”. According to satellite footage published by the Indian news channel NDTV, there has been large-scale construction work at a Chinese military airbase less than 120 miles from the border in recent weeks, including the building of a new runway suitable for warplanes.

Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told reporters in Beijing that the two countries have channels for resolving such issues. “At present, the situation along the border between China and India is generally stable and controllable,” he said. “China is committed to safeguarding the security of its national territorial sovereignty, as well as safeguarding peace and stability in the China-India border areas,” a Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

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