China's New Wall: Border Villages
India Today|November 22, 2021
Beijing is setting up border villages to shore up its territorial claims on India along the world’s longest disputed frontier
Sandeep Unnithan
Until 2019, the area just north of Arunachal Pradesh’s Upper Subansiri district had been verdant forest. Last year, a concrete village of 100-odd houses appeared along the sliver of the Tsari Chu river—the neat grey-roofed structures were arranged like rows of white and grey terracotta warriors. Satellite images released this January by US-based private imaging firm Planet Labs showed the new village. The land the village stood on had once been part of India’s North East Frontier Agency (later renamed Arunachal Pradesh) until it was occupied by China in the late 1950s.

Beijing’s explosive growth of military infrastructure—airfields and military bases on the Tibetan plateau—is now only matched by a simultaneous push to settle civilian populations in newly-constructed settlements like the one on the Tsari Chu river. Over the past three years, China has built over 600 ‘Xiaokang’ (well-off) border villages along its nearly 4,000-km-long boundary with India. The new villages dot a swathe of the Tibet Autonomous Region, from Rutok in Ngari Prefecture opposite Ladakh to Rima opposite Kibithu in Arunachal’s Lohit Valley. All of these villages are built in Tibet, which China occupied in 1949. (China does not recognise Arunachal Pradesh as part of India and calls it South Tibet.)

‘Some of these villages were built despite ongoing diplomatic and military dialogues to reduce border tensions with India’, noted the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military development to the Congress, released on November 4. The report said the People’s Republic of China (PRC) ‘has continued taking incremental and tactical actions to press its claims at the LAC (Line of Actual Control)’. It highlighted the ‘large 100-home civilian village’ (on the Tsari Chu) located ‘inside disputed territory between the PRC’s Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector of LAC’.

A top Indian military official told india today that these ‘ghost villages’ seem to be uninhabited for now but could be used as temporary dwellings for PLA (People’s Liberation Army) troops. “They (China) will put their people in these settlements, lay claim on border areas and start influencing our population, which is going to be dangerous for us. They have got money power that will be used on the border,” the official said.

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