As the construction of the Sino-Indian border intensifies, so do the clashes – The diplomat

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The recent clashes between China and India are following a trend: The surest way to forecast hot spots is to keep an eye out for infrastructure developments along the border.

The pattern of border industrialization and hotspot infrastructure development is best evidenced by the fact that the last two major clashes, the Doklam stalemate and the Galwan Valley clashes, were also the result of conflicts. infrastructure.

The Doklam dispute in 2017 was catalyzed by Chinese attempts to build a road in the Doklam area in Bhuta. Indian troops arrived at the scene to aid their Bhutanese allies and protect the strategically important Siliguri Corridor (the corridor that connects mainland India to its northeastern states), which lies just 80 kilometers from the ridge of Doklam. Likewise, the 2020 clashes in the Galwan Valley occurred over India’s construction of a road bridge in the valley that connected the important Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road to Durbuk in Ladakh. Although the bridge is firmly in Indian territory, it is only 7 kilometers from the Real Line of Control (LAC), which provoked the Chinese.

More recently, in May 2020, China warned against India’s attempt to “unilaterally change the border territory status quo” by undertaking construction work near the Leh border, warning that this would prompt ” necessary countermeasures “. That threat materialized nine months later, in January this year, when news broke of Chinese troops building an entire village in Arunachal Pradesh. Satellite images showed 101 houses built 4.5 kilometers inside Indian territory. Even the Foreign Ministry confirmed that it had received reports that China was undertaking construction work along the ALC.

Slowing the development of borders is not an option for the two most populous nations in the world. As China and India heal their growing economies and growing nationalist rhetoric, securing their territories through infrastructure development is a matter of national pride. But the inevitable development of border infrastructure is also the main instigator of the conflict between the two nations.

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Such clashes will only intensify as the two countries increase their infrastructure along the LAC. In the case of India, between March 2018 and 2020, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) had built 1,505 kilometers of roads, mostly in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, the BRO built the Daporijo Bridge over the Subansiri River in Arunachal Pradesh, which strategically connects India to the LAC. The Defense Ministry hinted at future aspirations along the Arunachal LAC by noting that the bridge has been upgraded to allow passage of heavier vehicles, “meeting not only the needs of the military but the future needs of infrastructure development “.

Across the border, China’s recent green light to build the Brahmaputra Dam in the Tibet Autonomous Region is a worrying development for India. The dam is expected to be the largest hydroelectric facility in the world, three times the power of the current world’s largest, the Three Gorges Dam, also in China. R. Keerthana warns that although the dam will create 300 billion kilowatt-hours of clean energy for China each year, it will negatively impact Indian agriculture in downstream areas, disrupt the flow of the Brahmaputra in northern states -is and will endanger sensitive local ecosystems.

With no signs of slowing border development, some identify a silver lining, arguing that the increasing frequency of infrastructure construction and the resulting clashes are in fact markers of progress. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested that the better the infrastructure of the LAC, the higher the likelihood of confrontation due to increased patrols. The implication here is that while high tensions are an unfortunate consequence, more patrolling, in itself, is a step towards greater vigilance. Therefore, more frequent standoffs can also be attributed to the increased ability of the Indian military to “monitor, detect and respond to Chinese PLA patrols”. Better border infrastructure means better national security.

Likewise, Kyle Gardner, an expert on Indochinese affairs, hypothesized that while border infrastructure could increase tensions in the short term, it could gradually create a de facto semi-precise border that could settle some of the land claims that overlap. Currently, India and China do not have a mutually accepted and demarcated border. Currently, the two neighbors are tiptoeing around the ALC status quo, itself contested. Gardner cautiously states that while the border infrastructure along the LAC will be controversial in the coming years, it could create a tangible border in how India and Pakistan share along the Line of Control. .

Until the future reveals itself, India and China will continue to rapidly build their respective outposts. However, the two giants must proceed with caution as any misstep can result in loss of life on both sides of the border.

A longer version of this article has already been posted on the SPRF website.


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