The report by UK-based think tank Chatham House builds on other evidence of the massive ramping of infrastructure on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

China has built an extensive set of installations and established an ecosystem to support its troop deployments in the disputed Aksai Chin region, expanding roads, outposts, and camps in the area, according to a report from Chatham House.

The report by the UK-based think tank is based on an analysis of satellite images taken in the six months since October 2022 and builds on other evidence of the massive ramping of infrastructure on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since the start of a military standoff with India in May 2020.

The satellite images of Aksai Chin show “expanded roads, outposts and modern weatherproof camps equipped with parking areas, solar panels and even helipads”, according to the report from Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

A new heliport is being built in disputed territory, away from the frontlines and near Aksai Chin Lake, the report said. This facility comprises 18 hangars and short runways for use by helicopters and possibly drones, which will “significantly enhance the operational capabilities” of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in and around Aksai Chin, the report said.

Hindustan Times on June 1 reported, using satellite images provided exclusively by Planet Labs, how China’s expansion of airfields along the LAC since 2020 has created capabilities for the PLA to conduct a wider range of operations and to counter India’s comparative advantages in some areas.

The border standoff has taken India-China relations to a six-decade low, especially after a brutal clash at Galwan Valley in June 2020 killed 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops. India’s top leadership has maintained that ties cannot be normalised until steps are taken to address the “abnormal” situation on the LAC.

In the Galwan Valley, a number of PLA bases connected by roads “can now be seen leading up from the main standoff site, following the path of the frozen river”, the report said.

There is also significant Chinese activity at the Depsang plains, one of the remaining friction points in the Ladakh sector of the LAC. “Patrols seemingly intend to put pressure on, and impede the development of, a strategic Indian airstrip at Daulat Beg Oldi, which serves as a logistics and transport base for Indian operations at high altitudes and is the highest airstrip in the world,” the report noted.

At Raki Nala, a river valley south of the Depsang plains, Chinese outposts “are visible, potentially able to block Indian patrols in the area”. At Pangong Lake, a bridge is nearing completion and when finished, it will allow the rapid deployment of Chinese forces from PLA’s Rutog military garrison to mountain ridges overlooking the water body.

The proposed Chinese G695 highway, intended to link Xinjiang with Tibet, is due to be completed in 2035 and “will run the length of Aksai Chin through the Depsang Plains, south past Galwan Valley and towards Pangong Tso”.

The report described this as a “strategic artery that will connect the contested region to mainland China and give the PLA a new supply route”.

While the reasons behind China’s sudden move across the LAC are still hotly debated, the true motives are “probably only known in the highest echelons” in view of the “opaque nature of Chinese policymaking” under President Xi Jinping. “Whatever drove the decision, the PLA is now firmly ensconced in Aksai Chin and looks set to remain there,” the report said.

“For India, this means its armed forces will now have to match a large-scale and probably semi-permanent Chinese presence along the border with Aksai Chin, perhaps for years to come,” it added.

Following more than two dozen rounds of diplomatic and military talks, India and China pulled back frontline forces at Pangong Lake, Hot Springs, and Gogra. However, there has been no headway in disengagement and de-escalation at friction points such as Depsang and Demchok.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

* Your mail address will be fully secure . We don’t share!