Territorial disputes between India and China are intensifying as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to set up new villages near the border regions of the Himalayas. Experts say that this strategy mirrors the one the regime has used to build islands to stake its claim to the South China Sea.
“The border villages are the Himalayan equivalent of China’s artificially created islands in the South China Sea and let us not forget that in the South China Sea, China has redrawn the geopolitical map without firing a single shot,” Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research, told VOA.
“Beijing advanced the expansionism not by directly employing force but through asymmetrical and hybrid warfare. That success in the South China Sea has emboldened China and it has taken that playbook to the Himalayan borderlands,” he said.
India claims that the majority of the civilian settlements are being built along the edge of the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims is part of Southern Tibet. In January, satellite images analyzed by New Delhi Television (NDTV) revealed that 101 new homes had been constructed in a village near Arunachal Pradesh in the last year, with the capacity to house thousands of people.
However, an online map created by the Surveyor General of India, which is used by the government as its official map, clearly shows that the village is situated within Indian territory.
The Indian Foreign Ministry told NDTV, “We have seen recent reports on China undertaking construction work along the border areas with India…Our Government too has stepped up border infrastructure including the construction of roads, bridges etc, which has provided much needed connectivity to the local population along the border.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the NDTV report, saying that Beijing has “never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh,” while formally claiming the Indian state is “illegally established on the Chinese territory.”
Analysts say that the village construction efforts have been officially linked to the CCP’s self-proclaimed poverty alleviation and border defense projects. Claude Arpi, a scholar on Tibet, China, and India, said that the communist regime will “change the status of an area which was previously uninhabited to inhabited with people either from Tibet or mainland China. So they change the demography in a disputed area.”
By fortifying infrastructure in these areas, including with roads, optical fiber cable, and electricity, Beijing ensures that these regions are able to adapt to either civilian or military requirements. Arpi states that the development of villages in remote mountain areas with little to no economic activity indicates that the communist regime has larger strategic plans.
Moreover, even though these villages are being built in Southern Tibet, many of the settlers are actually Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group of China, rather than Tibetan. As a result, the CCP can simultaneously suppress Tibetan culture in the region and ensure that the overall population is loyal to the Party.
One billion people adversely affected downstream
China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which was recently approved in the National People’s Congress’s (NPC) annual session, lays out plans to build the Sichuan-Tibet railway near the Indo-China border. The railway runs near Arunachal Pradesh and allows China to rapidly deploy People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the area when needed. The railway, which is expected to be completed by 2030, has been hailed by Chinese scholars as a critical asset to delivering “strategic material” on the border villages.
In addition, China is building a massive dam on the Brahmaputra River in the Tibetan region, along with an estimated seventeen other dams along its lower reaches. The main dam is purported to become the world’s largest dam, even bigger than the Three Gorges Dam in Sichuan province.
However, approximately one billion people are expected to be adversely impacted, including inhabitants of countries downstream who are dependent on the waters provided by the river and its tributaries.
“The huge influx of people and the large-scale construction activities, including building border airports and 200 border defense villages, will certainly result in warming of temperatures,” said Jayadeva Ranade, President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, in a Vivekananda International Foundation news article.
“In turn, this will accelerate the retreat of glaciers and drastically reduce the flow of water in the glacier-fed rivers that irrigate the Indo-Gangetic plain where the majority of India’s population reside. There will be attendant non-conventional security issues,” he wrote.