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The Chinese Army Blew Up a Bridge in India a Month Ago, and Got Away With It

Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: October 3, 2021
This photo taken on April 22, 2021 shows police officers and a staff member riding horses as they prepare to publicise laws and government policy to nomad herders in a remote area in Altay in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. (Image: by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Recent reports by Indian media reveal that on Aug. 30, more than 100 soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intruded on a border region and destroyed a bridge before returning to Chinese territory. 

According to The Economic Times, the Indian military didn’t notice or react to the intrusion in the Barahoti region at first, insiders told the Mumbai-based outlet. By then, the PLA troops — who came in on horseback — had already left the way they came, through the Tun Jun La mountain pass. 

The Chinese attack was reported by local civilians, who said the intruders had spent several hours destroying the bridge and other infrastructure. 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has shown more aggression toward India in recent months, echoing border tensions from the 1950s and 1960s. 

A source in the Indian Home Ministry told The Economic Times that it wasn’t the first time the PLA had tried to infiltrate the Barahoti area, prompting the Indian military to deploy more troops there. 

But the scale of the Aug. 30 incident has Indian officials worried, as previous Chinese incursions were minor and the area was mostly free of military presence. 

The PLA first invaded Barahoti, located in the high-altitude Himalaya mountain range, in 1954. Skirmishes broke out between China and India the next year; in 1962, the conflict resulted in a brief war. 

In recent years, there have been multiple confrontations between PLA and Indian military troops. In 2017, two Indian bunkers were reportedly destroyed during a skirmish in the Doklam region, after which the Indian troops formed a human wall to stop further incursions. 

Last May, four Indian soldiers and seven Chinese troops were injured in a clash in Naku La, as reported by the Times of India. The altercation involved more than 150 personnel and several people were injured. 

The Himalayan border falls under the purview of the PLA’s Western Theater Command (WTC), which has just seen a leadership change. 

Sinologist and senior research fellow with the India-based Usanas Foundation Frank Lehberger told The Epoch Times that the recent incident in Barahoti could be connected to the August promotion of Gen. Wang Haijiang to head the WTC. Lehberger noted that Wang is an expert in patrols and reconnaissance in mountainous terrain. 

According to Lehberger, the PLA could have intended the operation as a means to gauge the Indian reaction should Beijing decide to make a bolder move in future. Another goal could be to keep the Indian military on edge. 

Gen. Wang had taken part in the Doklam skirmish of 2017, during which he distinguished himself by the construction of roads and militarized “villages” in the area of operations. 

Rajiv Dogra, an Indian former diplomat, told The Epoch Times that the incursion in Barahoti could have also been intended as the CCP’s response to a meeting of the informal Quad alliance held on Aug. 24 between the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India. 

Ryan Wu contributed to this report.