In a significant development that underlines the need for New Delhi to be more alert and watchful, China has planned to expand its railway network by 2,641 km by 2025 which will pass through the contentious Aksai Chin region close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. China’s plan has come after India expedited the construction of four strategic lines of railways near its disputed boundary with China. Now, the Indian security and strategic establishments need to be extra cautious and more vigilant even as Beijing has reportedly accelerated its railway network projects, cutting through the contentious Aksai Chin. The development is coming at a time when India and China are locked in a border standoff, with a large number of troops stationed along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. Security and strategic affairs experts believe that China is planning to build a robust railway network and stretches close to LAC with the sole motive of being able to transport PLA troops for deployment swiftly near the disputed border areas in case of any confrontation with Indian forces. Therefore, the Chinese plan to establish a railway line linking Xinjiang with Tibet, running through the disputed Aksai Chin region and alongside LAC, is a cause of concern for India. The background of the dispute of Aksai Chin is something that needs to be recalled at this point of time. The Chinese occupation of Aksai Chin began with the building of a highway through this region in the 1950s. This area in India’s north, part of Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, remains under illegal Chinese occupation partly since the 1950s and completely since 1962. What is worth mentioning here is that last year, China announced to build a second highway through Aksai Chin after which India also gave fillip to its border infrastructure projects. What New Delhi is not oblivious to is that China’s rail network in the Himalayas has expanded rapidly. With this in view, India not only needs to keep a close eye on the future plans of China in terms of railway network expansion near the border, but also prepare its strategy to counter it accordingly. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent remarks about infrastructure development along the border assume significance in this context. Highlighting how the border infrastructure holds the key to any nation’s preparedness, Jaishankar underscored how security at the borders including at the India-China border is closely linked with the infrastructure development in the area. “We have focused on the rapid development of infrastructure along the Northern Borders with China for obvious strategic reasons. We have focused on rapidly developing border connectivity with our friendly neighbours to enhance trade, energy and other people-to-people exchanges,” Jaishankar said at an event. “The facts are there for all to see. During the period 2008-14 the budget allocated for the China border projects stood at a mere ₹3000-4000 crore which has taken a multi-fold jump to Rs14000 crore at present,” he said. According to Jaishankar, one cannot do a thing without investing in infrastructure to ensure our forces are prepared better to counter any action. Jaishankar’s observations suggest that India is seriously pursuing its border infrastructure plans to counter China. The focus is already on the Chinese plan to expand its railway connectivity near LAC. New Delhi has expedited its efforts to construct strategic railway lines near the LAC with China. A detailed project report (DPR) of these lines has already been released as well. The Modi government’s decision to clear the addition of 9400 personnel to guard posts along the Chinese border is also a welcome move. Moreover, the government’s approval to a 4.1-km-long tunnel that will guarantee all-weather access to Ladakh is also a positive development. In what will bolster security on the border, the government decided to add seven new battalions, comprising at least 9,400 personnel, to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which will also be given a new sector headquarters in Arunachal Pradesh, which shares a lengthy border with China. What is good is that these much-needed decisions have come at a time when China is regularly planning to establish railway and other infrastructure networks in the regions adjoining the LAC. However, India needs to watch more closely how China’s plan to establish a rail network through the Aksai Chin area unfolds, as this will be another challenge from Beijing for Delhi to deal with.
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