China digging tunnels, building bunkers in Aksai Chin: Should India be worried? First Post


New satellite images reveal Chinese troops have been digging tunnels and building reinforced bunkers at several sites in Aksai Chin, near the LAC. According to experts, the construction shows that Beijing has no intention of resolving the border standoff and is digging in for the long haul

China’s doublespeak has once again been revealed. While its leader Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the recently-held BRICS Summit in Johannesburg agreed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to expeditiously “disengage and de-escalate” troops on the ground along the borders, satellite data reveals that Beijing is doing the exact opposite and instead digging down, making tunnels.

The news comes after China reverted to old ways and claimed the area of Aksai Chin region in Ladakh and the state of Arunachal Pradesh as its own in their standard maps. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has dismissed the move, telling NDTV, “China has put out maps with territories (that are) not theirs. (It is an) old habit. Just by putting out maps with parts of India… this doesn’t change in anything. Our government is very clear about what our territory. Making absurd claims does not make other people’s territories yours.”

What do we know about China’s new activity in Aksai Chin? Should India be worried?

China’s underground activity

New satellite imagery obtained from Maxar Technologies, a US-based space company, reveals that between 6 December 2021 and 18 August 2023, China has aggressively imposed its presence in the Aksai Chin region about 70 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The images reveal that Chinese troops have been carving tunnels and shafts into a hillside along a narrow river valley to construct multiple reinforced shelters and bunkers for soldiers and weaponry. Experts, after studying the satellite images, told NDTV that there are at least 11 portals or shafts bored into the rockface on both banks of the river valley. Hindustan Times has reported that the Chinese side has built reinforced bunkers and underground facilities at six locations in the same region.

It is evident that the construction has come up post 2020 – the year India and China faced off at the Line of Actual Control and set off the military standoff. A comparison with older images from the same area reveals considerable activity, including the presence of earth-moving machinery, new roads and multiple entrances for underground facilities.

Some defence experts commenting on the constructions said that it is an attempt by the Chinese to protect their heavy weaponry and soldiers from Indian airstrikes and extended-range artillery.

Moreover, a closer look at the satellite imagery shows that the earth has been raised, indicating underground bunkers. Also, entry and exit areas have a distinctive fork design meant to dissipate the impact of pressure from bombardment.

Expert speak

The new construction activity is a clear indicator that China has no clear intentions of disengaging at the LAC or resolve border issues amicably.

Damien Symon, a leading satellite imagery expert with The Intel Lab, analysing the imagery, is of the opinion that China’s underground move is looking to offset the advantage the Indian Air Force brings to the playing field.

On rebranded X, he also wrote, “This shift in strategy unfortunately also means, they are digging in for the long haul.”


Sameer Joshi, the CEO of NewSpace Research & Technologies, a leading Indian drone start-up shared same views, telling NDTV, “The Chinese decision to carve into hillsides is directly linked to greater Indian offensive capability. The massive construction activity, including hardened shelters, bunkers, tunnels, and the widening of roads is being done to mitigate this clear and present danger which the Indian Army has imposed on the Chinese deployment doctrine in Tibet.”

Brahma Chellaney, known to be one of India’s most known and prominent voices on China, also told NDTV, “China’s creation of permanent bunkers and other fortifications in Aksai Chin meshes with its broader intransigence, with no sign that it is willing to climb down to some extent to end the extended military standoff with India.”

Earlier reacting to the ‘standard maps’ that Beijing had released, Tibetan parliament-in-exile MPs had also stated that China can never be trusted. Dawa Tsering MP said China is nobody’s friend. “China always says that it wants friendship with you but China’s malice is concealed behind its sweet talk. Never trust China and its leaders, because they can never be anybody’s friends,” Tsering told ANI. “All South Asian countries to stand against the Chinese expansionist policy. It has to be condemned.”

India-China’s military standoff

Since 2020, India and China have had strained ties following the Galwan clash when troops of both sides engaged in hand-to-hand clashes. In an effort to ensure its borders are peaceful and to send a message to China, New Delhi has ramped up road and tunnel construction in the Ladakh region and modernising its high-altitude airfields.

China, too, has been ramping up construction activity along the LAC; it has built border defence villages, equipped with all the facilities. The PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) has also constructed new helipads, roads, bridges and last-mile connectivity in the area to establish their presence in the region.

China has also massively upgraded all its air bases facing India like Hotan, Kashgar, Gargunsa, Shigatse, Hoping, Lingzhi and Lhasa-Gonggar with new and extended runways, hardened shelters and fuel storage facilities for additional fighters, bombers, AWACS, drones and reconnaissance aircraft.

Also read: Why China’s plans of a new railway line through Aksai Chin is worrying news for India

And despite numerous rounds of commander-level talks, China has refused to disengage from the Depsang and Demchok regions.

As Jeff Smith, director of the Asian Study Centre, told NDTV, “Beijing seems determined to double down on a more aggressive LAC strategy, despite the considerable, perhaps irreversible, damage it has done to its relationship with India and despite facing considerable headwinds with a cratering economy.”

So, those hoping that the border issue with China would be soon resolved, can keep waiting.

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