In 2017, China started a dubious campaign called ‘Plan for the Construction of Well-Off Villages in the Border Areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region (2017-2020)’ with an aim to establish more than 600 “well-off” (Chinese: Xiaokang) villages as Border defence villages. The aim of these villages was to relocate the villagers, especially CCP cadres, to border areas, to ring-fence the control around Tibet and its population more tightly as part of its occupation of Tibet and to control Tibetan people’s passage into India.
In words of Chairman Xi Jinping “To govern the country well we must first govern the frontiers well, and to govern the frontiers well, we must first ensure stability in Tibet.” And that is why, most of these villages, were planned and have been built in border areas of Nyingtri, which borders India’s Arunachal Pradesh and Shigatse. The villages are built mostly along the passages that Tibetans take to enter India directly or via Nepal. The entire plan was built along creating a wall around Tibet borders, to contain Tibetans more effectively. Not even a single village was supposed to be built across China’s sphere of influence, so as to not hamper CCP’s command and control of the village.
Thus, the village that fired up the Indian media yesterday, had nothing to do with India per se. Though it can obviously be inferred logically that populating disputed areas, as is the case in the village under question here, China can assert its control over the area better and can claim that owing to local population being Chinese, the areas is effectively Chinese too. Hence it serves two exceptionally good purposes for China. However, the point remains that the village was not inside Indian territory.
The report of this village, located on the banks of Tsari Chu river in Upper Subansiri district, an area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), was bought out by NDTV yesterday, duly supported by satellite imagery and a picture of the village, claiming that Chinese have built a village 4.5 km inside Indian territory. The report was written by NDTV journalist Vishnu Som.
The statement made in lambent light of ongoing Indo-China tensions does nothing but provide a mental image of Chinese aggression deep into India and with such impunity that they have started building housing projects. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Border village plan, with nearly $5 Billion investment was supposed to end in 2020, and that is why we see these villages now. The Ladakh standoff has nothing to do with this development at all, and none of the villages was to be beyond Chinese borders. Also, the village has been built along the Chinese Xingquionpuzhang to Migyitun Defence highway. The highway goes way ahead for 2-3 Km beyond the village, all within Chinese occupied territory and Migyitun township, as shown by township map of China. Hypothetically speaking, if this village was inside Indian territory, how would Chinese maintain it?
The nearest military post is a couple of kilometres away. Who will defend the civilians living there and how will they get electricity, water, internet, schooling, health etc? Who will be responsible for their safety when Indian authorities come knocking on the door? Where will they farm, work and earn? So why would Chinese build a village 5 km inside India when at the first instance the residents would be forced to run back to China for security and food!
This is the same area, Upper Subansiri, where 5 Indians were kidnapped by PLA and later released in September 2020. Unless Chinese came deep within Indian territory just to kidnap 5 porters, and later release them too, it can be safely assumed that the area is well within the control of China and its Army. And it has been under their control since 1959. The same was confirmed by many senior military officers, other media portals and locals from Arunachal on Twitter yesterday, after reading this report.
In fact, it is pertinent to note here that NDTV itself added this detail in their report. However, for some mysterious reason, chose to sensationalise the story to create confusion. Though this line was added only after social media outrage calling our their blatant lies.
Having served and commanded in the area, the firsthand information of General officers cannot be disputed. As the saying goes in Army – You know your Area of Responsibility like the back of your hand. The area is without any doubt under Chinese occupation but claimed by India since long as it belongs to Indian side of McMohan line. If we really had to make noise, it should not have been over this one village, but roads, military barracks, installations, townships, airports and much more that have been built over the decades in all occupied territories.
But then there is no end to the hue and cry we will have to raise since there are Aksaichin and PoK too. Practically speaking, once the area is under occupation, the enemy is bound to build infrastructure there and there is nothing you can do about it except raise concern at international forums and also try to match the development along the border area.
The claim of coming inside Indian territory, and building a village falls flat on the tactical and strategic front also. If you could sneak into enemy territory with an aim to capture it, what would you build, a military fortification or a village? As amply proven in the case of present Leh issue, where both India and China with an aim to assert control over the area have been furiously busy building military infrastructure and roads to connect them.
If the aim were to occupy the area, why didn’t Chinese build a village there? Simply because it’s impossible to achieve and even more impossible to defend and maintain. You cannot carry out construction activities that would last for months inside enemy territory. Not to mention which civilian would be ready to go and why would they volunteer? It will be naïve of us to think that Chinese locals happily sauntered off across LAC with a dream to start living in India. So the only thing PLA would and have done to dominate the area is build military posts. No civilian population or a village is ever built ahead of Military line of defence. That is why there is a No man’s land! And in this case, the No Man’s land extends ahead of a major Chinese post, that was built in 2010, and if a couple of kilometres south of this new village.
Having said this, one still cannot take away the responsibility Indian gov holds in countering these developments by valid means. Yes, we cannot go to war every time China builds a village or road in occupied territory, but we should also not keep sighing helplessly. The way we are building infrastructure and road network in Ladakh, the same model needs to be applied here as well. We need to match boots with boots and brick by brick. We cannot be truly a regional and global power if there we leave these gaps unattended to right on our borders.
China is on the path of reviving colonialism somehow. Its imperialist plans are evident in the South China Sea, Tibet and borders along all neighbouring countries. India is the nearest and only major opposing force standing in its way. Divided we fall! Difference of opinions and criticism of the government should not translate to sly messaging which is almost on lines of hurting national morale and denigrating the image of Armed forces, who are dedicatedly guarding our borders round the clock and making huge sacrifices for our safety. As long as even one Indian soldier is standing guard, the desperate neighbours can keep trying, they will not get an inch inside now, leave aside building a village.