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Fears the increasingly bitter dispute could spark all-out conflict are growing with some global defence analysts warning the uneasy peace in the region could no longer be guaranteed. The stand-off has sparked a build-up of troops and weapons on both sides as they try to assert territorial claims over disputed areas.
As China develops and continuously improves its strategic access, it wants others not to do so
Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy
There has been no official confirmation of the scale of troop deployments but reports suggested China’s People’s Liberation Army has sent multiple advanced weapon systems and refitted fighter jets for operation in high altitude areas of the Tibetan plateau.
The Indian army has also moved several battalions from an infantry division usually based in the Ladakh city of Leh, near the border, to “operational alert areas” along the frontier, reports claim.
Troop reinforcements have also been mobilised from other areas.
Hong Kong-based military expert Liang Guoliang said Beijing had deployed at least nine combined arms brigades featuring specialists in mountain infantry, artillery, air defence, aviation, chemical and nuclear and electronic warfare.
Tensions boiled over a month ago when soldiers from both sides clashed in fistfights and stone-throwing in the Galwan River valley between Ladakh in Indian-administered Kashmir and Chinese-administered Aksai Chin.
The latest border conflict has been simmering since 2017 when the nuclear-armed neighbours faced off over China’s construction of a road in Doklam near a tri-junction border area known as Donglang or Donglang Caochang in Chinese, territory that is claimed by both China and Indian ally Bhutan.
The Doklam incident saw the PLA expand its arsenal by sending weapons such as the Type 15 tank, Z-20 helicopter, GJ-2 attack drone and PCL-181 advanced vehicle-mounted howitzer to the Tibetan plateau.
China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported a PLA scout unit had in recent days moved towards a target in the Tanggula Mountains at an altitude of 15,420 feet using night vision devices on their vehicles to avoid drone surveillance.
Satellite images also show China beefing up its military presence at an airbase in Ngari Gunsa in Tibet with the deployment of J-16 multi-role fighter jets.
A security source told the South China Morning Post: “The J-16s were supposed to be deployed to Ngari Gunsa for regular training, but like the J-11s and other fighters, they stayed there because of the stand-off.
“The Indian Air Force has deployed more aircraft to the borders, so the PLA needs to deploy the J-16s, which are more advanced than India’s Su-30MKI fighters.”
Beijing military expert Zhou Chenming said video clips released by China were designed as a warning to India that the PLA was raising its skills.
He said: “China has kept deploying upgraded and new weapons, including aircraft like the Z-20 helicopter, J-10C and J-11, to altitudes of up to 5,000 metres above sea level on the Tibetan plateau for training and testing.
“But those are just warnings to show the PLA’s capability, not really aimed at waging war with Indian troops, because Beijing realises that India is not China’s real enemy – despite the United States’ attempts to bring India into its Indo-Pacific strategy to counter a rising China.”
Rajeswari Rajagopalan, a defence analyst from the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi, said India had fewer than 225,000 troops along the border.
She said: “According to the most recent estimates from experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, China has 230,000 to 250,000 troops in its Western Theatre Command.
“It should be noted that a lot of those Indian forces are not facing China, and a significant number of them are for counter-insurgency purposes.
“The Indian troops are not actually on the border, and India faces significant difficulties in getting forces to the border because of the mountainous terrain.”
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Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a Delhi-based defence commentator, said the friction between the two countries stemmed from India’s suspicion about China’s increasing infrastructure investment near the disputed borders.
He said: “Chinese infrastructure is bigger and better. As China develops and continuously improves its strategic access, it wants others not to do so.
“However, India is determined to improve accessibility to border areas and it does not need approval from Beijing to develop its own border infrastructure.”
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