With face-offs between Indian and Chinese troops a regular feature at the disputed Yangtse area of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector since over two decades now, the latest clash on Friday showed yet another vehement attempt by the Chinese to gain territory, senior defence officials told News18.
As per the officials, the Chinese attempts to gain control over the territory, leading to face-offs of varying severity between them and the Indian troops, began in the late 1990s.
The face-offs usually take place twice a year — before and after the icy winters hit this region. However, in recent years, the Chinese patrols have become larger — over 200 troops come together in their attempt to transgress the LAC at Yangtse. They also come over with crude weapons such as modified clubs fitted with nails and taser guns among others.
In October last year, too, a large Chinese patrol had attempted to transgress the LAC at Yangtse, leading to a major face-off between the two sides. What followed was a temporary detention of Chinese troops in the area.
China has also significantly upgraded its infrastructure in this region, including the construction of model ‘Xiaokang’ border defence villages on its side of the LAC — an effort that India looks to counter through its Vibrant Villages programme.
These villages continue to remain unoccupied but military officials had earlier said China could use them for military purposes too.
So, what is China’s interest in Tawang and why has Yangtse continued to see clashes over the years?
India’s traditional threats from China come from two strategic tri-junctions — Tawang and the Chumbi Valley — with the former located at the Nepal-Tibet border and the latter at the China-Bhutan junction.
Taking into account the perceived Chinese political-military objective, India has put its military might at both the tri-junctions. In fact, a 2017 report by CNN said the Tawang monastery is the point of power play in the internal politics of Tibet.
It is not only Tawang’s Yangtse which has been seeing clashes between Indian and Chinese troops. Tawang has three mutually accepted disputed areas and other sectors such as Sumdorong Valley had seen a major military standoff with China in 1986-87 that dragged on for nine years before getting resolved.
Following the stand-off, both sides deployed a significant number of troops at all sectors of Tawang — including at Yangtse and at Mago Chuna further east — much of which was earlier only patrolled.
The answer to why it has been a disputed site lies in the heart of a 17,000-feet ridge overlooking China which India dominates.
Multiple defence officials, who have served in the region, told News18 that in the last two decades, China has continued to perceive India’s presence here as an intrusion and has repeatedly staked claim over the area.
“They have even brought this issue up time and again in various border talks and maintained the same stance every time. As a result, attempting a transgression every year is not just an effort to assert their claims, but also to occupy the territory there if they are not contested adequately,” an official explained.
On Tuesday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament that the PLA troops on Friday had tried to transgress the LAC in Yangtse and unilaterally change the status quo. However, in the last two decades, this has been one of the many such attempts.
Taking into account sensitivities like these, India has turned its attention fully towards China in the northeast by gradually moving away from counter-insurgency roles as part of a reorientation move.
India’s additional troop reinforcements in the region help the Army react and mobilise troops at a short notice to counter Chinese transgressions when reported.
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