Sikkim border stand-off: India is finally waking up to the reality that China is bolstering its infrastructure along LAC

India and China are once again at loggerheads but this time the location is not the disputed territories of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh, but Sikkim a state which Beijing recognises to be part of India.

The Indian media reported on Monday that Chinese troops had entered India in the Sikkim sector and jostled with Indian Army personnel guarding the Sino-India frontier, besides destroying two bunkers.

Reports added that the face-off had been going on in Doka La general area in Sikkim since 16 June.

The Indian troops had to struggle hard to stop the Chinese personnel from advancing further into Indian territory. They formed a human wall along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to stop the People's Liberation Army (PLA) personnel, some of whom also videographed and clicked pictures of the incident, reported PTI.

As a consequence of the tensions on the border, China suspended the annual Kailash Manasarovar yatra, adding that the decision to suspend the pilgrimage was due to a border stand-off and alleged that the Indian troops had crossed the Sikkim section of the Indo-China border.

 Sikkim border stand-off: India is finally waking up to the reality that China is bolstering its infrastructure along LAC

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping. AP

The catalyst for the ongoing stand-off seems to be India's objection to China building a road in the Sikkim sector of the border. While India alleged that the area comes under its jurisdiction, China, on the other hand, said that the area "undoubtedly" is located on its side of the border as per the 1890 Sino-British Treaty.

Poor infrastructure in India's North East

Strategic experts have long decried India's lack of infrastructure in the eastern border regions. A 2015 report published in Hindustan Times highlighted the lack of access in North East affecting the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which patrols the border regions along China. The report added that two senior leaders, BJP's Tarun Vijay and former Arunachal Pradesh MP Takam Sanjoy, slammed the poor infrastructure in the region.

Vijay was quoted as saying,

“Vehicles crawl at 20-25 kilometres per hour on the Indian side of the border. The Chinese can move at 120-140 kilometres per hour on their side.”

On the other hand, Sanjoy was blunt in his criticism.

"If you can’t make roads, don’t talk about trains to the China border.”

Sanjoy criticised the government for neglecting the border regions and cutting down on the budget for improving border security.

This state of affairs is in sharp contrast with China, which has been investing heavily in improving its infrastructure along the India border. Beijing is not only improving its own infrastructure but through smart diplomacy, it is also encircling India by creating key economic and strategic assets.

Strategic connectivity 

The $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which transgresses Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, allows China easy access to the Arabian Sea.

It is not just Pakistan but China is also spreading the tangles in Bangladesh and Myanmar, the latter is a key nation in India's Look East Policy. China has invested $10 billion in developing a Special Economic Zone in Kyaukphyu, giving China access to the Bay of Bengal. Since 2012, China is also keen on building a road link between Kunming and Chittagong, a port city in Bangladesh.

A Quint report noted that China may begin the work of linking Nepal's capital Kathmandu through a rail link by 2020.

China's developmental push in Tibet 

China's Tibet Autonomous Region shares its border with India. China has been on a development spree in the region, building about five airports, besides linking the territory with road and rail links. In contrast to India, which has still not linked all of North East through rail link, China linked Lhasa to its railway system in 2006.

Developmental projects being undertaken in Tibet has sparked concerns in India as it would provide considerable leverage to the 2.3 million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA) to move men and material up to the borders with relative ease.

China's military power is also bolstered by several airstrips in Tibet as well as a 58,000 kilometre-long roadways in the region. While a 2011 The Times of India report stated that the Chinese military has five operational airstrips in Tibet, a recent Quint report pegs the number at 15.

What must worry India is the fact that a rail link between Lhasa and Xigaze is close to Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal, reported The Times of India in 2014.

In addition to providing China with easy military manouevering, the railway links have led to the influx of migrants from the populated regions of China, noted The Guardian in a 2016 article.

While China has been proactive in building infrastructure along the border, India has woken up from its slumber only in the last few years.

India's response to the China threat 

According a Hindustan Times report published in February 2017, Indian Army is set to deploy fleet of armed helicopters near the North East border. The report also noted that the army will also raise a new corps, 17 Corps, for the North East by 2025. A Quint report added that the a new air force station near Ladakh will be built just 25 kilometres from the Line of Actual Control.

The Ministry of DONER is focussing on developing roadways in the North East. A 2016 communique on their website states:

An amount of Rs.4113.31 crore has been released for 608 Roads and Bridges under Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) scheme upto 5.8.2016. Under the scheme, North East State Roads Investment Project, a total of 433.4 kms is undertaken for upgradation/ construction in the North East at a total cost of Rs.1355.83 crore. Under North East Road Sector Development Scheme (NERSDS), four inter-state neglected road projects have been taken up by Ministry of DoNER for upgradation through National Highway & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).

On the other hand, the Indian Railways is all set to go beyond Assam and cover the rest of the seven sisters by 2020, according to a 2016 The Indian Express report.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Aug 01, 2017 09:45:31 IST