In a move that has sparked widespread controversy, China unveiled its latest ‘standard map’ on August 29, which depicted several disputed territories as part of its sovereign land.
This act of redrawing borders, particularly claiming the Indian northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh and the contentious Aksai Chin region as its own, has led to heightened tensions.
Notably, Taiwan and the South China Sea, both of which are subjects of intense international disputes, were also included within China’s territorial ambit in this new map.
The Chinese state media outlet Global Times took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to share this new map, asserting that it was formulated based on the country’s national boundaries and those of various other nations.
India’s response to this development was swift and strong.
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar criticised China’s actions, labeling its territorial claims as “absurd.” He highlighted China’s historical tendency to publish maps showcasing territories that are not rightfully its own.
However, this map release is just one layer of the complex dynamics between the two countries.
The 2020 Galwan incident, in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives during a confrontation with Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
This incident acted as a catalyst for India to bolster its defensive capabilities in the eastern Ladakh region, home to the disputed Aksai Chin. One key aspect of India’s response has been the enhancement of its military readiness.
This involved deploying surface-to-air guided missiles spanning a range from short to 100 kilometers, a strategic move aimed at ensuring border security. The aggressive clash in Galwan triggered concerns and necessitated India to upgrade its military preparedness, especially given China’s assertive actions in the broader Indo-Pacific area.
A significant element of India’s strategy is the emphasis on building a rapid and robust military force in forward locations.
This included the deployment of fighter aircraft that could be airborne within just 5 to 7 minutes, greatly increasing the nation’s agility in responding to potential threats.
Furthermore, India used remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) for electronic surveillance, intelligence gathering, and real-time information dissemination. This step augmented India’s situational awareness, with aircraft like the SU-30 and Jaguars executing surveillance missions.
Parallel to these measures, India invested in radar installations and improved the ease of constructing bridges over critical water bodies like the Indus River. These initiatives underscored New Delhi’s commitment to rapidly strengthen its defence infrastructure.
Now, the satellite images in a location east of the Depsang Plains in Northern Ladakh, China was found to be constructing shelters and bunkers for soldiers and weaponry, indicating the ongoing militarisation of Aksai Chin.
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Experts in international geo-intelligence, who studied images sourced by NDTV from Maxar, identified the presence of tunnels and shafts carved into a hillside along a river valley in Aksai Chin.
These structures served as fortified shelters and bunkers. This activity underscored China’s entrenched posture, signaling its reluctance to de-escalate the prolonged military standoff with India.
But one must not forget that in response to the 2020 clashes, India also expedited road and tunnel construction in the Ladakh region and embarked on modernising high-altitude airfields.
The completion of the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road, which drastically cut travel time from Leh to the sensitive Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) post near the LAC, was a pivotal achievement.
This road enabled quicker troop and supply movement, enhancing India’s strategic position. A new tunnel on this route further showcased India’s commitment to reinforcing its infrastructure in the face of emerging challenges.
India is well aware of China’s recent cartographic display of Indian territories as its own. But India has already taken proactive measures to strengthen its military preparedness, particularly in the context of the 2020 Galwan incident.
By deploying advanced missile systems, enhancing fighter aircraft readiness, and using technology for surveillance, India has bolstered its security posture.
New Delhi is cautious because China’s militarisation efforts in Aksai Chin and other border areas reaffirm its unyielding stance.
According to Jeff Smith, the Director of the Asian Study Centre, who has reviewed the satellite images reportedly said that Beijing appears resolute in pursuing an aggressive strategy along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
He pointed out that China’s move comes despite the significant and potentially “irreparable” harm inflicted on its relationship with India. Moreover, China’s determination remains steadfast even in the face of “considerable headwinds with a cratering economy, an accelerating rivalry with the U.S and an intensification of disputes in the Western Pacific.”
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