Infrastructure Build-Up at the Core and India-China Border Tensions


Research Fellow and Centre Coordinator East Asia Centre The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi Dr. Jagannath Panda

In the most violent clash to have taken place along the India-China border since 1975, twenty Indian soldiers were reported dead when a physical altercation broke out between soldiers from both sides on the night of June 15, 2020 in the Galwan Valley, a part of Ladakh. Tensions along the border had been increasing since May when China sent in troops into the disputed territory in a bid to thwart Indiaʼs Border Roads Organization (BRO) from continuing with infrastructural construction in the region. The building of a new high-altitude road leading an Indian air force base was a key trigger of the dispute; the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road is a key strategic infrastructure that is 255 kms long and can rapidly improve Indiaʼs abilities to transport men and equipment during conflict. It connects the capital city of Leh with the vital Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip of 2008, running parallel to the LAC as an all-weather road, near to the Karakoram Pass.
The India-China boundary has been a major point of contention for many years now; however, post-Galwan, the focus has recalibrated on the same. The race for building strategic infrastructure along the region has intensified as a direct result of assertive ambitions by parties involved; both nations are trying to out-build the other. Recently, it has been reported that China is developing two air defense positions near the India-China boundary which will spread over Naku La in Sikkim as well as the area contested under the 2017 Doklam standoff. Since Doklam, which also emerged as a result of construction by China on the India-Bhutan-China trijunction, Chinaʼs PLA has dominated the areas it had crossed into during the standoff.
Beijingʼs release of a position paper on Doklam –in a rather uncommon move for China –served as a future pointer of the nature of China-India boundary disputes. It highlighted how China plans to influence the status-quo on the ground by taking on a more aggressive stand and doubling down on building military infrastructure in the region. The 2017 report by Xi Jinping at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Part of China (CPC) also refurbished on infrastructure goals, especially along border areas. It presented plans of accelerating development along border region to promote “stability and security” of the communities; further, with the goal of building a “modern border defense”, improving national defense mobilization was set to take priority.