By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, Feb. 16: China has significantly increased its military build-up in Tibet and Xinjiang, according to a report published last year by Stratfor, a leading security and intelligence consultancy. It detailed growing evidence of the increasing military infrastructure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in India and civilian facilities along the borders in Ladakh, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh.
China has reportedly embarked on an extensive campaign of building villages in disputed regions with the aim of settling thousands of people in uninhabited areas. The report by Hindustan Times (HT) said that the open source satellite imagery suggested that China has improved connectivity between key cities and military hubs in Tibet to reduce the time taken to move troops and logistics towards the border.
China continues to develop military facilities at Lhasa Gongkar (Ch: Gonggar) airport “including the renovating a surface-to-air missile site, a site for an air defence system, suspected support site for the air force and new hardened shelters to protect combat jets.” There has been improvement at the Lhasa heliport, which houses Z-20 attack helicopters. It has also created a surface-to-air missile site on the banks of Mansarovar Lake in Tibet and developed two new air defence positions that cover disputed borders in Doklam and Sikkim sectors.
Moreover, the Hotan airbase in Xinjiang which is part of the PLA western theatre command and crucial for air operations in Ladakh sector of the LAC has undergone a rapid upgrade in the last few months. The new infrastructure upgrades are aimed at “boosting military capabilities of the site” which also include runways and ammunition storage and auxiliary support facilities. The airbase has J-11 and J-20 combat jets, electronic warfare aircraft, airborne early warning and control aircraft, and drones.
Chinese authorities have ramped up upgrades of military infrastructure at places such as Golmud, the third-largest city on the Tibetan plateau. The city has served as a key staging post for Chinese troops and heavy equipment being moved towards the LAC over the past few months. The latest imagery shows China building a large heliport at Golmud with more than 60 hangars. According to Stratfor’s report, China built 13 new military positions including airbases and air defence units near the LAC after the 2017 Doklam standoff. It also started work on four heliports after the current tensions in Ladakh emerged in May last year.