China's recent activity near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India involves the establishment of 'border settlement villages', also referred to as 'Xiaokang' in Chinese. These establishments, reportedly rapidly increasing in number, are strategically positioned in several sensitive zones. The motive, ostensibly rooted in the 19th Party Congress decisions from October 2017, is perceived as a bid to create a buffer zone that facilitates surveillance and strengthens territorial claims.
Significance of the Locations:
Tawang: Hosting an estimated 30 such villages, Tawang bears significant strategic and religious importance. It's viewed as a gateway to Arunachal Pradesh and Northeast India. Its religious significance ties back to Tibetan Buddhism.
Tulung La: With around 25 villages, Tulung La's strategic importance relates to a historical incident in 1975 when the Chinese ambushed troops from India's Assam Rifles.
Chumar: Eight villages have been identified in this sensitive area.
Moreover, these settlements are observed in areas opposite West Bhutan and North Bhutan.
China's Legal Backing:
The Land Border Law introduced by China in 2022 offers these villages legal grounding. While the law entrusts the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the police with the responsibility of maintaining border security, it also mandates Chinese citizens to actively participate in defending these border infrastructures.
Infrastructure & Connectivity:
These settlements are not mere residential zones. Their infrastructure comprises dual sectors: civilian and military. As witnessed in Tatu Camp near Kibithu, East of Arunachal Pradesh, these settlements come equipped with administrative buildings, helipads, firing ranges, and more. Reports also suggest enhanced connectivity, with amenities like oil pipelines, optical fibre networks, and heliports, revealing a blend of civil and military infrastructure.
Officials from India caution against labeling these as mere 'villages'. Such nomenclature, they argue, might inadvertently legitimize China's territorial claims. Instead, referring to them as 'Chinese border settlements in the un-demarcated areas' is suggested. Furthermore, India has initiated the establishment of its` vibrant villages` closer to the borders. However, these efforts are relatively recent in comparison to China's ongoing initiatives.(A Q&A on Vibrant Villages is there on the website:www.sriramsias.com)
China's border village initiative, backed by its 2022 Land Border Law, reflects a strategic push to bolster territorial claims and enhance infrastructure along sensitive border areas. India's response, both in terms of its own infrastructural developments and the diplomatic narrative, will be crucial in the unfolding geopolitics of the region.