According to satellite imagery of the India-China border and communications intercepted from Chinese units, the Chinese military is working on a major road construction project that would dramatically improve its ability to move and support People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces against India.
The Indian government is reportedly concerned about the road, although it did not publicly denounce the project or demand a halt to construction as of Friday afternoon.
The Hindustan Times reported Friday that the road and associated infrastructure will improve the PLA’s ability to cross Karakoram Pass. The road is less than 30 feet wide for much of its length, but it would “shorten the distance to the strategic gateway into the Daulet Beg Oldi sector by two hours,” and would help the PLA feed and support troops positioned along the mountainous Indian border for extended periods.
A senior Indian military commander told the Hindustan Times the Chinese are working on widening and strengthening the road to handle “bigger vehicles carrying heavy equipment.” Supporting infrastructure is also under construction, including an underground fuel depot and tunnels that can be used as aircraft hangars.
Karakoram Pass is located on the edge of China’s Xinjiang province, home of the oppressed Uyghur Muslim minority. The Hindustan Times theorized that military forces moved into Xinjiang to dominate the Uyghurs could be repurposed for a “worst case scenario” of conflict with India.
India and China have been working on de-escalating their border conflict for months. The latest round of talks was conducted with a virtual meeting Friday, with little progress reported, although both sides pledged to “maintain close consultations at the diplomatic and military level” and meet again as soon as possible.
Both India and China have thousands of troops dug in along the border, even though it runs through some of the most inhospitable high-altitude terrain in the world. Indian officials who spoke to the Hindustan Times pointed to China’s road-construction project as an example of how the PLA talks about disengagement but keeps reinforcing its positions.