Indian and Chinese Troops Clash on Disputed Border Over New Indian Road: Experts

Venus Upadhayaya
By Venus Upadhayaya
December 13, 2022Asia & Pacific
Indian and Chinese Troops Clash on Disputed Border Over New Indian Road: Experts
An Indian Air Force Hercules military transport plane prepares to land at an airbase in Leh, the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh bordering China, on Sept. 8, 2020. (Mohd Arhaan Archer/AFP via Getty Images)

News Analysis

NEW DELHI—The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops clashed again with the Indian troops on the disputed border, this time in Arunachal Pradesh on Dec. 9. Experts told The Epoch Times that the latest skirmish likely took place due to the new $4.8 billion (40,000 crores) frontier highway the India government is building in Arunachal Pradesh.

New Delhi reported injuries on both sides.

“PLA troops contacted the LAC [line of actual control] in the Tawang sector, which was contested by [our] own troops in a firm and resolute manner. This face-off led to minor injuries to few personnel on both sides,” said the Indian defense public relations officer in a statement from Tezpur headquarters of the Indian military.

The last time a major bloody clash occurred between the two armies was on June 15, 2020, in Galwan in eastern Ladakh in the Northeastern Himalayas, in which 20 Indian soldiers and 40 PLA soldiers died. The Chinese regime claimed only four died in that conflict, but Indian and Russian sources refuted it. That skirmish also happened due to the border infrastructure India was building in the region.

The recent clash took place in the Eastern Himalayas, or what’s called the Eastern Sector in military terms, over 950 miles of aerial distance from the Galwan skirmish. Over 300 Chinese soldiers tried to enter the Indian territory, on the disputed border in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, according to Indian media sources.

The Chinese regime claims Arunachal Pradesh as its territory and calls it Southern Tibet. On the Chinese map, its literal translation is “Region [地区] of South Tibet (Militarily Occupied by India [印]).”

The Indian official sources based in New Delhi didn’t share the exact location of the skirmish or details about the number of soldiers injured. They didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ request for more information. However, Indian media reports claim that at least six Indian soldiers were injured, and there were more injuries among the PLA soldiers.

In a statement to Lok Sabha or the lower house of the Indian Parliament on Tuesday, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said that there were “no fatalities or serious casualties” on the Indian side. He said that the PLA troops “tried to transgress the LAC in Yangtse area and unilaterally change the status quo.”

“The ensuing face-off led to a physical scuffle in which the Indian army bravely prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts,” said Singh, adding that the Chinese side was asked to refrain from such actions and to maintain peace and tranquility along the border.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) didn’t acknowledge the skirmish in its daily media briefing on Tuesday.

“As far as we know, the China-India border area is generally stable, and both sides have maintained smooth communications on boundary-related issues through diplomatic and military channels,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said when asked to comment on India’s official statement on the clash.

NTD Photo
A map showing the probable location of the Dec. 9, 2022, clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. (Screenshot of Google Maps/Courtesy of Frank Lehberger)

Strategic Location

Claude Arpi, a noted historian, author, and Tibetologist, told The Epoch Times that the Dec. 9 attack by the PLA could have been mounted from a Xiaokang village in the Yangtse area. “Xiaokang” is a generic name for the “well-off society villages” built in the past few years by the Chinese regime on the disputed India-China border.

“There are a few areas on the Line of Actual Control in the Eastern Sector, where the Indian and Chinese perceptions of the LAC are different. The main disputed places are Sumdorong Chu, Yangtse, and Longju areas. Longju, where the first clash between India and China took place in August 1959, is presently quiet, as it has not been patrolled by India for decades. Sumdorong Chu area has also been relatively peaceful,” said Arpi.

The French-born Indian resident said that from social media, it appears that a new road was built or upgraded north of the place of conflict, and a Xiaokang village has recently been built nearby. “It could have been used as a base by the PLA to mount their attack.”

The Yangtse is a sub-sector in the north of Tawang sector. The Indian defense public relations officer said in his official statement that Tawang has certain areas of differing border perception wherein both sides patrol the area up to their claim lines, which has been the norm since 2006.

“Yangtse here is the Tibetan name of the part of the [Himalayan] mountain range on which the LAC runs east of this deep north-south valley,” Frank Lehberger, a Europe-based Sinologist and expert on Tibet, told The Epoch Times in an electronic correspondence.

Arpi claims that a minor clash happened in the Yangtse sub-sector of Tawang in 2021.

Xiaokang in Chinese means a fortified village, and the social media reports identify the fortified Chinese village linked to PLA’s latest offense as “Tangwu 汤乌 elevation 4150m,” according to Lehberger.

“‘Xiao Kang’ 小康 is a misnomer because it only denotes the general type of such fortified villages. So the Chinese origins of these clashes in this sector are related to this Tangwu village,” he wrote.

Ninong Ering, a member of the Arunachal Pradesh legislative assembly and a former minister in the Indian federal government, told The Epoch Times that he spoke with the deputy commissioner of the area and found out that a “flag meeting” has taken place between the two sides in Bumla and the issues have been subsequently resolved.

The deputy commissioner is the district’s top administrator in the Indian bureaucracy.

The Indian defense public relations officer and the defense minister also mentioned in their statements that disengagement was achieved immediately “in accordance with structured mechanisms to restore peace and tranquility.”

NTD Photo
Indian Army soldiers demonstrate positioning of a Bofors gun at Penga Teng Tso ahead of Tawang, near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), neighboring China, in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state on Oct. 20, 2021. (Money Sharma/AFP via Getty Images)

PLA’s Agenda

The Chinese want to control the heights in Yangtse to have a strategic advantage and see what’s going on, on the Sela-Tawang road from up there, according to Lehberger.

Sela-Tawang is the only road from the Assam plains to Tawang. It’s over 1,200 miles long and is the toughest ever frontier highway project in Arunachal by the Indian government. Assam is an Indian state adjoining Arunachal Pradesh in India.

“All military reinforcements can only take this one road with its new tunnel,” said Lehberger. The Indian media reports also described it as an industrial corridor highway linking west India to east India, and it was in the news late last month due to the Indian government speeding up its construction.

“If the Chinese can sit on the mountain tops at Yangtse and see all the traffic to and from Tawang and Bomla, they will already have a good idea of what is going on with Indian military operations,” he said.

In case of a future conflict, the Chinese can, without much effort, prevent the Indian Army from using this road (Sela-Tawang), and Tawang can easily be invaded and annexed by the Chinese, according to Lehberger.

“That’s why it’s strategic! Meaning in case of a hot war with weapons in the future, Chinese rocket artillery or small missiles can easily block/interdict India from bringing in reinforcements to the border around Bomla,” he said.

In the event the road is cut or made unusable by the Chinese, only the Indian Air Force (IAF) with helicopters could supply Tawan, which is very costly, dangerous because of weather and Chinese surface-to-air-missiles, and unsustainable in the long run, even if the IAF is very capable and experienced, he added.

Ering said that the Chinese want to take over Arunachal Pradesh from India, and that’s why these skirmishes are bullying tactics.

“We don’t agree to that. Our people are very firm on this,” he said.

NTD Photo
Demonstrator shout slogans as they protest against China’s claim of six districts of Arunachal Pradesh state in New Delhi on April 25, 2017. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Greater Concerns

Retired Col. Vinayak Bhat, a satellite imagery expert and an Indian military intelligence veteran, told The Epoch Times that there are greater things that should concern India in Arunachal Pradesh, a territory that China claims as its own and shows in its territorial maps.

He claimed that the PLA has intruded deep into Indian territory and has already built underground bases and underground headquarters in the Indian region they have occupied.

“India must take strong measures to ensure that no further loss of territory takes place. India and the Indian Army are capable of handling these small clashes,” said Bhat, adding that the Indian Army will further take appropriate steps to ensure that there is no loss of territory or escalation of conflict.

From The Epoch Times

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