China is constructing new villages along its Himalayan border with India in an effort to move the unmarked boundary into Chinese territory, experts warned on Friday, replicating Beijing’s encroachment strategy in 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 Voice of America on April 2.
“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.
Satellite images analyzed by New Delhi Television (NDTV) in January showed China had recently built a new village within the boundaries of India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing illegally claims as part of a fake region it calls “South Tibet.”
China has built at least 101 new homes in the village over the past year, according to satellite images. Experts consulted by NDTV to review the aerial photos estimate the new residential buildings have the capability of housing thousands of villagers.
“The latest image that establishes the village in question is dated November 1, 2020. The image dated a little more than a year before that – August 26, 2019 – does not show any construction activity. So, the village was set up in the last year,” NDTV reported, adding that China built the new structures “approximately 4.5 km [2.8 miles] within Indian territory.”
“An authentic online map of the Surveyor General of India, used by the government as its official map, clearly shows that the Chinese village lies well within Indian territory,” the Indian broadcaster noted.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to NDTV’s report on January 22 by claiming that Chinese construction within Arunachal Pradesh was justifiable, as Beijing considers the region part of Chinese territory.
“China’s position on the east sector of the China-India boundary, or Zangnan region (the southern part of China’s Tibet), is consistent and clear. We have never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh illegally established on the Chinese territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular press briefing.
“China’s normal construction on its own territory is entirely a matter of sovereignty,” Hua said.
India remains engaged in a standoff with China along their unmarked Himalayan border. The conflict launched in June 2020 after Chinese border troops attacked an Indian border regiment in the northern Indian state of Ladakh, killing 20 Indian soldiers. An estimated 40 Chinese troops were also killed in the skirmish, which was sparked due to tensions caused by China’s construction of new military facilities near Ladakh in the preceding months.