While the government insists that frequent Chinese incursions on the Sino-Indian border are “routine” and according to “established pattern”, sources in the security establishment say there are reasons to worry as the “pattern” is fast changing. Apart from frequent patrol drills inside Indian territory, agencies have observed that Chinese troops are also clearing forest cover in Arunachal Pradesh and taking away timber and other forest produce.
Sources said this was a new development as earlier, Chinese troops merely engaged in muscle flexing through intrusions, patrols or short stays on the Indian side. “It has been observed in the recent past that in Arunachal Pradesh, several forest areas along the border have been cleared by Chinese troops. They have carried away timber and other forest produce. There is also evidence of make-shift timber cutting units in the area,” said an officer from the security establishment.
Sources said this was a way of asserting ownership of the region by the Chinese. “It is basically a way of saying that the natural resources of the region is ours,” the officer said. The August 13 incursion in Arunachal Pradeh’s Chaglagam area by Chinese troops, when they came 20 km inside India’s territory and stayed for three days, is also being cited as a notable change in the Chinese incursion pattern.
Sources said China so far has been focusing on the Tawang region in Arunachal Pradesh because of its proximity to Tibet, historic ties that give its claim some legitimacy and the existence of one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the region that China fears may be used by the Tibetan government in exile to help the Tibetan struggle against China.
“Most incursions by Chinese troops in Arunachal Pradesh happen in and around the Tawang region. Chaglagam falls in what is called ‘rest of Arunachal Pradesh’ where Chinese troops have comparatively little activity. So, this incursion is worth looking at carefully,” said another officer who has observed Chinese activity in the region.
Sources said these developments coincide with frenetic road building by China on the Sino-Indian border in the past one year and are significant. China already has a wide network of over 58,000 km of roads near the Indian border and is constantly building on it even as India struggles to catch up due to a late start, poor terrain and red tape. While Chinese troops can make it to the border within 48 hours, it takes Indian forces over a week to reach a border outpost in Arunachal as there are no roads.