Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh notwithstanding, China's increasing activity on LAC is a concern

China’s disapproval of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh notwithstanding, it has continued with its objective to build robust infrastructure in the region contiguous to the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC). At least two more roads in the Tibet Autonomous Region are nearing completion that will soon reach the Line of Actual Control (LAC) ahead of Mechuka in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.

"Two roads at Chuningla Pass and Seruptangla Pass in the Mechuka subdivision on the LAC built by the Chinese have almost reached the border and are expected to be completed within a few months," said a local resident who serves as a porter for the Indian Army. He claimed to have gone to China for photography on several occasions. The hilly and meandering route from LAC to Mechuka was one of the entry points of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 1962 and it had reportedly reached a place called Gurudwara which is only 15 kilometres from the subdivision headquarters. However, unlike in Tawang and Anjaw, the deployment of Chinese troops is thin across the middle region of Arunachal Pradesh which includes the West and Upper Siang districts.

The advanced landing ground in Mechuka. Photo courtesy: Rajeev Bhattacharyya.

The advanced landing ground in Mechuka. Photo courtesy: Rajeev Bhattacharyya.

Another local porter explained that the PLA usually comes in vehicles for inspection of the LAC after every two weeks or so and then returns after a few hours.

But the Indian Army is not taking any chances and especially after an incident two years ago when the PLA had crossed the border at Chuningla Pass and ventured more than 100 metres into Indian territory. There were heated arguments between the two sides for a few hours until the Chinese withdrew to their territory.

When this correspondent visited Mechuka last October, “war games” were being conducted in villages near the town. Sometimes, entire villages are vacated for a few hours for the routine mock drills. An advanced landing ground has been completed in the heart of the town, bunkers constructed at all vantage points in the surrounding hills and exercises have been stepped up in the past three years.

Mechuka and many Buddhist settlements in Arunachal Pradesh near the LAC had maintained links with Tibet before the aggression in 1962. Some elderly residents said that even “annual taxes” were paid to the authority in Tibet — a practice that came to an end after the war. A small monastery atop a small hill in the southern fringe of the town has even preserved rare Tibetan religious texts which are on display for tourists.

China has been claiming 90,000 square kilometres of territory in the North East, which includes the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh and the contiguous areas of three districts on the north bank of the Brahmaputra in Assam.

Arunachal Pradesh has a 1,126 kilometre-long International Border with China-ruled Tibet (second in length after Jammu and Kashmir which has a 1,597 kilometre-long frontier). On the Indian side, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has embarked on the construction of roads in several border districts, but the pace has been slow and work almost comes to a halt during the rainy season. At Mechuka, the road has reached beyond Yarlung, but is still 14 kilometres short the border. This is part of a network of 27 strategic border roads in Arunachal Pradesh that have a combined length of 804 kilometres.

Observers feel that the expanding infrastructure in China across the LAC, including roads, railway, and fibre optics, is aimed at integrating the frontier region with the mainland and facilitating faster mobilisation of troops supported by a strong air defence system.

The growth of infrastructure in China has led to a spurt in intrusions by its army into Indian territory as the data released by the government reveals. There were a total of 180 incidents in 2011 which went up the following year including the episode in Arunachal Pradesh’s West Kameng where two Chinese patrols refused to budge for a couple of days till the arrival of Indian forces. Another patrol even painted 'China' on the rocks near Charding-Nilung Nala at Demchok in Ladakh on 8 July, 2012. Chinese troops had occupied Hundred Hill in Anjaw as recently as 2009, territory that India claims.

The author is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men.

Updated Date: Apr 05, 2017 11:59 AM

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