China appears poised for fresh incursions into Indian territories 3,200km east of Ladakh where it has reached a stalemate after its first invasion in May.
It is reported to be increasing its troops in south Tibet across from India’s Arunachal Pradesh state.
The area was the setting of a 1962 war after Chinese forces invaded the north-eastern state against the poorly equipped army of a country that got independence in 1947.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has significantly increased the number of its troops about 20km from India’s border, say reports citing official sources.
News agencies citing state government officials confirmed India’s response of increasing its forces to counter the Chinese build-up. Postponement of a meeting of corp commanders of the two countries discussing the Ladakh standoff is adding to fears about Chinese intentions.
In 2017, China increased construction of roads close to the tri-junction of its borders with Bhutan and India. It resulted in a more than three-month standoff between the two countries in the area known as Doklam.
Arunachal Pradesh is of critical strategic importance since it is the main buffer between China and the remaining six other mountainous north-eastern states. Some of the seven states have in the past been infiltrated by terrorists based in and trained by China and Myanmar.
Also, the entire north-east is connected to the Indian peninsula by just a 20km wide area between Nepal and Bangladesh.
The movement of Chinese troops fits into the pronouncements of the Chinese officials.
Lijian Zhao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said this month that the area had been illegally occupied by India and was part of south Tibet. China did not recognize the so-called Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, he said.
Arunachal Pradesh which literally means “land of the dawn-lit mountains” gets the first sun rays in India. Almost 77% of its 83,000 square kilometers is covered by forest, half of which stretch from Myanmar, Bhutan and China. It gets 80 to 200 inches (200 to 500cm) of rainfall annually, most of it between May and October, making movement difficult.
China claims the entire state and in 1962 invaded most of it only to vacate it as part of an agreement. It encroached on parts of Ladakh and has been pushing to occupy more Indian land since May.
India for its part swears by the Simla Agreement of 1914 between the independent state of Tibet and Britain under which the 890km border is marked as the MacMahon Line, named after the British administrator.
China declined to recognize the agreement because that would have meant recognizing Tibet as an independent entity. China invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950, adding almost a third of extra land to its territory.
Retired army generals familiar with the region say that any Chinese incursion into the area and skirmishes between the two forces could pose greater challenges than even Ladakh. The region is covered by dense forests, has high humidity and plentiful rivers, including the mighty Brahmaputra, known as Yarlung Tsangpo in China.
In Ladakh thousands of troops supported by artillery, battle tanks and fighter jets face each other barely hundreds of meters apart. It has been quiet since last week’s Moscow meeting between foreign ministers Subrahmanyam Jaishankar of India and Wang Yi of China.