Massive buildings with multiple floors being used as army camps, model integrated villages, tunnels, four-lane roads — all close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — and new training modules of Chinese army are among the aggressive posturing that finds mention in security reviews after the Doklam row of 2017.
The current standoff in Ladakh is not the usual patrolling faceoff but part of the new combative strategy that was rolled out by China after Doklam, those observing China say.
Chinese activities noticed after the 73-day Doklam standoff, which was the most serious confrontation in recent years before the current standoff in Ladakh, present a clear picture of the Chinese plot.
The standoff was at the India-China-Bhutan trijunction. China’s road construction in Bhutanese territory was seen as an attempt to change the status quo by India and finally the road work had to be stopped.
On May 5 and 6, Indian and Chinese troops clashed at the contentious Pangong Lake in Ladakh leading to a big build-up in the entire region.
Indian Army carried out two crucial war games last year within a month’s gap in Eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh to assess war capabilities with China against the backdrop of this aggressive display of strength by the neighbouring country.
Chinese activities, in months to come, were seen as more aggressive and unusual from the past.
China’s integrated villages or extension of army cantonments?
The Chinese army is building integrated model villages that are an extension of cantonments close the Line of Actual Control, trying to ensure military and civilian population co-exist at the frontier.
Huge buildings with residential complexes having sports and recreational facilities like basketball and volleyball courts have come up in the last couple of years, sources said.
Officials say the idea is to have dual usage for these complexes.
However, there seem to be no takers as most of these are still empty with no civilians living here.
“Both the army and civilians can use it and its probability being done to strengthen the claim over the land in case of an escalation. They are an extension of military cantonments,” said an official.
The places also have observation towers and under the close watch of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
There are over two dozen of these integrated villages across the LAC, mostly in the Eastern sector opposite Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
There are also plans to have hotels near the integrated villages that are under the close watch of the Chinese army.
These villages are meant to accommodate the tribal and nomadic population on the Chinese side and are well connected by newly made four-lane roads.
China beefed-up military power after Doklam
Even though the standoff ended, Chinese efforts to ramp it military infrastructure did not stop.
China mobilised its tank regiments in different sectors, in some cases as close as 20 km from the LAC after Doklam.
Fresh infrastructure build-up was aimed at lowering mobilisation time for the Chinese troops.
New training modules included firing and hand grenade throwing drills
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army had intensified its training schedules at the Line of Actual Control soon after the Doklam standoff in 2017, adding new modules in their routine, sources said.
The new training modules included frequent firing and grenade throwing and also more rigorous physical drills.
There were two new training manuals that came into effect in 2018 and 2019.
Sources said the intensity of these training sessions was more visible in “eyeball to eyeball forward posts” where Indian troops could see their activities.
India’s new war tactics and infra development riled up China
The Indian Army responded with new battle tactics and also enhancing its military infrastructure.
The current standoff was triggered by Indian road construction and the development of infrastructure that the Chinese objected to.
The Indian Army carried out two exercises last year in September and October close to the forward areas of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, respectively.
The Indian Army carried out a rare integrated military exercise combining its various wings in eastern Ladakh in September just days after a faceoff between the Indian and Chinese troops in the region.
The war games included tanks, infantry soldiers, paratroopers jumping from helicopters and mechanised infantry as a part of readiness exercise to test the army’s capabilities against China.
This was followed by another war game within a month, this time in Arunachal Pradesh test its new war strategy against China at 14,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh 100 km away from the forward areas along the LAC.
The war games, to test the capabilities of the newly conceived Integrated Battle Groups, were carried out in phases in the upper reaches of Arunachal Pradesh near Tawang and faced some resistance from China but the matter was resolved through diplomatic channels.
This is the first summer after India put in place new tactics and the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir after which Ladakh is a union territory under the direct control of New Delhi.