Heightened tension along India-Tibet border

An Indian newspaper has reported increased tension between Indian and Chinese security forces along the Tibetan border. In a two-part series, the Hindustan Times reported on December 24 and 25 that India has put its troops on alert following “hostile actions” by China in recent weeks. Full text of the report follows.


Jaideep Mazumdar, The Hindustan Times, December 24, 2001. The Indo-Pak border is not the only place where tempers are flaring up. India has put its troops on alert on the eastern front as well in response to “hostile actions” by China in recent weeks.

China has, over the last two months, demolished 24 border pillars in the Dibang and Lohit districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Flag meetings held between the local army commanders of two countries have been unsuccessful and while the Indian army continues to rebuild the demolished posts along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), China has been continuing in its demolition spree.

A couple of months ago, China staked claim to some areas twenty kilometers within India in Sikkim. Alarmed over such belligerent Chinese moves, the Eastern Command has sent a report to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) asking for induction of more troops into the region to meet possible ‘adventurism’ by China.

“It is an alarming situation. China has made such intermittent moves in the past, but this time, it seems to be synchronised and with a purpose. We have put the troops on alert and moved in additional forces to the border areas,” said a top-ranking army officer. China’s moves along the LAC come at a time when it has upgraded communication links in its own side of the border.

China reportedly objected to some nomads constructing hutments near a stream 20 kilometres within Indian territory in Sikkim. “Chinese troops and officers entered Indian territory and told the nomads not to construct the huts since it was Chinese territory.

“When we received information, we objected and the Chinese did give up the claim, but they requested access for their nomads to the stream. The matter is unresolved, but the very fact that they entered India and staked claim to areas well within our boundaries is something that has to be viewed with concern. This has happened in the past in Sikkim,” said the officer.

Indian and Chinese troops clashed many times in 1965-66 at Nathu La in Sikkim. “The latest incursion must be viewed in the background of Chinese claim over the whole of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. We must not forget that China holds on to over 90,000 square kilometers of erstwhile NEFA (now Arunachal) following the 1962 aggression,” the officer added.

China has been building a number of roads over inhospitable stretches in Tibet. It recently upgraded an unused railway track from its interior areas to Lhasa in Tibet to a broad gauge line. “All the roads and highways that China has built in the recent past lead up to our borders and are not economically viable.

The only reason they could have been built was to carry troops and armour,” said another top-ranking officer from an Assam-based Corps that has Arunachal in its jurisdiction. Over the past two decades, China has been settling people from other provinces in the areas bordering Arunachal and many new townships-La-kang-tsung, Lung, Mikyimdun, Damze, P’i-p’o, Dimi and Lema among them-have come up in recent times.

“In fact, Chinese troops demolished border pillars along the LAC in Dibang Valley adjoining a major town that has sprung up on the other side of the border. This township is threatening to spill over into Arunachal now,” said the officer.

While reserve forces have been mobilised and sent to the areas along the LAC, the Eastern Command wants more troops inducted into Arunachal and Sikkim. “That’s in the short-term perspective. In the long run, we have to upgrade infrastructure-road, rail and communication links-in the North East, especially Arunachal and Sikkim that China claims as its own. We can ignore the threat from China only at our peril,” said Eastern Command-based officer.

Part II appeared on December 25, 2001

The hostile actions by the Chinese in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim is, according to strategic experts, part of a well-thought-out move to corner India on two fronts. China has also beefed up its presence in Myanmar, Coco Islands on the Bay of Bengal and plans to move in two aircraft carriers that are under construction now to the area.

India cannot concentrate exclusively on the western theatre with Pakistan if China undertakes these measures along Arunachal and Sikkim. And it could well be that it is goading Pakistan to anti-Indian actions in Rajasthan, Punjab and Kashmir. A distracted India is a weaker India and China stands to gain the most from it,” pointed out a senior army officer.

In fact, say serving and retired officer, the situation now is quite similar to the pre-1962 situation when Beijing lulled New Delhi into a false sense of complacency.

China constructed a load linking Tibet with Xinjiang Uighur region in 1961. This road passed through Aksai Chin area of India and to thwart any further moves by China, India sent its troops to defend that territory in November 1961. By October 1962, China launched a full-scale aggression.

This time, too, China has started acting on its claims over Arunachal and Sikkim and has constructed roads and rail links right up to our borders. It is encouraging new Chinese towns just across the border to spill over slowly into India. It is upgrading its formidable military infrastructure in the Small Coco and Great Coco Islands by stationing radar squadrons, extending two runways and beefing up the naval base there.

“At the same time, Chinese leaders are talking of peaceful resolution of the border issue with India and are trying to charm the Indian leadership into thinking that China is no threat to India. Our Foreign Minister said as much when he visited Beijing in June 1999, though our Defence Minister did say in April 1998 that China continues to represent a security threat to us,” said a retired army officer who did not want to be named.

China, said a strategic expert, has a long memory and has never shied away on taking concrete action on its territorial claims.

“Look at tactics China has employed to keep Japan and other countries on a leash. Apart from keeping India under pressure on the eastern front, China has been employing Pakistan as a surrogate belligerent to jeopardize India’s security,” said an analyst.

China has also been sending out conflicting signals few months after Jaswant Singh declared that China was no security threat to India, Chinese President Jiang Zemin made highly derogatory references to India while speaking to President Bill Clinton.

Zemin reportedly said that India would be dealt with strongly if it does not stop providing shelter to Tibetan refugees and continues to oppose China’s efforts to integrate Arunachal and Sikkim with the rest of that country. The USA’s Central Intelligence Agency sums it the best: Beijing treats India as a country to be threatened, belittled and kept in check. This, and other such assessments by the CIA, can be found in the CIA Factbooks.

According to the army sources, India will take at least a decade to upgrade its infrastructure in the North East to what China has on its side of the LAC now. It is learnt that the Indian Air Force (IAF) installations in the eastern and northeastern region have also been put on alert.

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