A U.S. Defense Department report citing the construction of a 100-home village in disputed territory between the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet has turned the spotlight on India’s concerns about a push by China to create civilian settlements along their disputed Himalayan border.
“China has undertaken construction activities in the past several years along the border areas, including in the areas that it has illegally occupied over decades,” India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said Thursday.
“India has neither accepted such illegal occupation of our territory nor has it accepted the unjustified Chinese claims,” he said.
New Delhi was responding to queries on the 2021 edition of the Pentagon’s annual report, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, which referred to construction activities by China along the India-China border areas.
The report said that despite ongoing diplomatic and military dialogue to reduce border tensions, China has “continued taking incremental and tactical actions to press its claims at the LAC” -- the Line of Actual Control that divides the two countries.
It said that "Sometime in 2020, the PRC built a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between the PRC's Tibet Autonomous Region and India's Arunachal Pradesh state in the eastern sector of the LAC. These and other infrastructure development efforts along the India-China border have been a source of consternation in the Indian government and media."
Based on satellite images, reports of the village along the Arunachal Pradesh border had first surfaced earlier this year while India and China were involved in a tense standoff along a different stretch of their disputed Himalayan border.
It was red-flagged by security experts in New Delhi because it lies along a hotly contested border -- China claims the state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet, while New Delhi says the northeastern state is an integral part of India.
At that time China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry defended its construction, saying the country’s “normal construction on its own territory is entirely a matter of sovereignty," and is “beyond reproach.”
According to security analysts, China has built more than 600 villages on its border all along the 3,488-kilometer Line of Actual Control stretching from eastern Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Ladakh. They say the construction in remote mountain areas is part of a larger strategic goal to reinforce China’s territorial claims along disputed Himalayan frontiers.
“The Chinese are building villages possibly for billeting and locating their civilians or for the military in the future all along the LAC, particularly after the recent face off that we have had,” Indian Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat said on Thursday speaking at a media event.
However, he said that no village had been built inside Indian territory.
Rawat called China India’s main adversary and not Pakistan. Saying that a lack of “trust” and growing “suspicion” is coming in the way of resolving the border dispute between the two countries, he said that India was stocked up for a “long winter.”
Both countries have beefed up military deployments all along the Himalayas, including Arunachal Pradesh. India says it is also focusing on improving infrastructure to meet the country's security requirements.
“The government is committed to the objective of creating infrastructure along border areas for improvement of livelihood, including in Arunachal Pradesh,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Bagchi said.
However, analysts point out that although India is making strides in building roads and bridges in the Himalayas to transport troops and weapons, it cannot match the pace at which China has strengthened border infrastructure.