According to a report by UK-based think tank Chatham House, China has intensified its infrastructure development in the disputed region of Aksai Chin. Satellite images analyzed by the think tank reveal an extensive ecosystem established by China to support troop deployments in the area. The images captured since October 2022 indicate that China has significantly expanded roads, established outposts, and built modern weatherproof camps equipped with parking areas, solar panels, and even helipads.
The report highlights that China has been ramping up infrastructure work in Aksai Chin since the military standoff with India began in May 2020 along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Notably, China is constructing a new heliport in the disputed territory, featuring 18 hangars and short runways that can accommodate helicopters and potentially drones. This development is expected to enhance the operational capabilities of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in and around Aksai Chin.
In addition to these infrastructure advancements, China has been expanding airfields along the LAC since 2020, as revealed by satellite imagery shared by Planet Labs. Such reports of China upgrading its army's infrastructure near the LAC have surfaced in the past as well.
The tense situation along the India-China border worsened in 2020 when Chinese troops attacked Indian Army personnel in the Galwan Valley, resulting in the loss of 20 soldiers. Since then, bilateral relations between the two nations have deteriorated, reaching a six-decade low. The Indian government, including the External Affairs Ministry and top leadership, has repeatedly emphasized the need to address the "abnormal" situation on the LAC before normalizing ties.
According to Chatham House's report, a number of PLA bases connected by roads can now be observed leading up from the main standoff site. Notably, the Depsang plains, a friction point in the Ladakh sector of the LAC, have also witnessed significant activity. Chinese outposts in the Raki Nala region have the potential to obstruct Indian patrols in the area.
Furthermore, the report highlights the progress of infrastructure developments around Pangong Lake in Ladakh. A bridge nearing completion will facilitate the rapid deployment of Chinese forces from the PLA's Rutog military garrison to mountain ridges overlooking the lake. Additionally, the proposed Chinese G695 highway, slated for completion in 2035, will span the length of Aksai Chin, passing through the Depsang Plains, south of the Galwan Valley, and towards Pangong Tso.
Consequently, the report suggests that the Indian armed forces will need to match China's substantial presence along the Aksai Chin border for a potentially prolonged period.
Image source: Mint