(Author is a New Delhi based senior Indian journalist, a veteran Tibetologist, China watcher)

Though started very late as compared to China in Tibet, Narendra Modi government’s ongoing feverish infrastructure development campaign along India’s Himalayan borders has shattered Xi’s dream of an easy walkover on India, especially in Galwan Valley

The exceptionally pungent and aggressive reaction of Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on 13th October over the inauguration of 44 bridges by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh a day earlier, reflects more than China’s growing arrogance on its border friction with India. It equally gives away Chinese PLA’s helplessness in front of Indian Army’s resolute response supported by India’s impressive infrastructure in one of the most difficult terrains of the world.

Replying to a journalist’s question in Beijing about the inauguration of these bridges he said, “First, I want to make it clear that China does not recognize the Ladakh Union Territory illegally set up by the Indian side and Arunachal Pradesh. We stand against the development of infrastructure facilities aimed at military contention along the border area.” He further exposed his government’s jitteriness about construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure facilities by India by branding it as “…. the root cause for the tensions between the two sides.”


This statement also reflects Xi Jinping’s personal frustration over getting log

jammed in his PLA’s Operation-Galwan in Ladakh which he had mounted with the hope of annexing a highly strategic region of India that included Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) air strip and the Siachin Glacier which jointly dominate China’s highly

valued Karakoram highway. This failure of his PLA has shattered his game plan of emerging as the ‘real hero’ of China and its unchallenged ‘paramount’ leader — at least for the time being.

Interestingly Xi Jinping, who wears all three big hats of the Chinese system as China’s President, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, too exposed his own frustration on the same day while inspecting an elite unit of the Navy Marine Corps of the PLA in Guangdong province. He called upon the soldiers to “focus on war preparedness and combat capabilities and maintain a high level of readiness…” Reporting this event the Global Times, the official mouthpiece of Chinese government and aimed at the international audience, quoted unnamed ‘Chinese Military analysts’ saying that “the inspection to the corps sent a signal that China will speed up its preparation for any potential military conflict in the water areas….. and regions of significant overseas interests, as the strategic pressure

from foreign hostile forces against China is increasing.”


In the light of ongoing power struggle within the CCP and Xi’s increasing vulnerabilities, his open call to his soldiers for ‘war preparedness’ also reflects how keen he is to pick up fights with countries like India, Japan and Taiwan to divert his Party and people’s attention from the snowballing economic crisis caused by the Wuhan virus and the resulting international hostility.

To those who are aware of China’s feverish development of military infrastructure in occupied Tibet, especially along 4000 km long Tibetan borders with India, Nepal and Bhutan, these Chinese objections against India constructing some roads and bridges on its own side of the borders would hardly cut any ice. Since occupation of Tibet in 1951, China has already developed a massive network of over 58 thousand km long roads; over 2000 km long Qinghai-Golmud-Lhasa-Shigatse railway line; five full-fledged airports and; an undisclosed number of PLA establishments, missile launch pads and nuclear installations within Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) that has common borders with India.


This situation in the infrastructure field presented a unique contrast with India until only five years ago when Modi government launched a massive and time bound campaign of developing infrastructure along India’s Himalayan borders. As explained by Modi himself in his various speeches his aim is to connect every Indian Army post with a dependable, all weather road. Until then except for the Nathu-la pass on India-Tibet border in Sikkim, not a single border post along the 3488 km long border between Indian and Chinese occupied Tibet was connected to the mainland through a road. Even in less difficult areas like Dharchula-Lipulekh in Uttarakhand, this author had to travel six days on foot in 1992 to reach Lipulekh tri-junction between India, Tibet and Nepal to report for a national news weekly about the reopening of border trade between India and ‘China’s Tibet’.

For the first six decades after China’s arrival on India’s border following occupation of Tibet, the only official explanation of New Delhi’s defence bureaucrats to justify the absence of roads in entire border region was that, “we shall not construct roads up to borders because Chinese army too can use these roads to walk into our mainland.”


But thanks to Narendra Modi’s decision to reverse this policy on its head, a massive construction work of building roads and bridges all along the Himalayan borders has changed the situation over past five years. Most of the ongoing 76 road projects to connect every Indian Army post along the border facing China’s PLA with an all-weather road have been either completed or are nearing completion. Out of the 44 bridges inaugurated by the Indian Defence Minister on 12th October, 30 bridges have linked the last border points with India’s national road network. Border Road Organization, the engineering arm of Indian Army is currently working on 102 other bridges in the border region along Tibet/China border.


Interestingly, the road connecting Galwan to Leh was completed only a few months before PLA attacked Indian soldiers in Galwan in May this year. This road played important role in beefing up Indian strength in Galwan within next few hours. This 255 km long road has been lying unconstructed for decades before Modi took personal interest and encouraged the BRO to complete it soon.

Supported with 37 pre-fabricated bridges it is now an all-weather road and can carry heavy artillery including tanks in the worst of weather conditions. On the Christmas day of 2018 Modi had inaugurated Bogibeel-Bridge, a 4.94 km long rail- road bridge on river Brahmaputra in the North-Eastern state of Assam. This bridge has improved Indian Army’s capacity and speed of moving war equipment and supplies to Arunachal Pradesh which has been on the target of Beijing since decades.

By creating a reliable infrastructure along the Indian borders, Modi has ensured that Indian soldiers can stay put all along the Indian Himalayan borders through the winters when temperatures can go below minus 400 C. This is surely going to put the PLA’s endurance as well as President Xi Jinping’s personal honour at stake in the CCP and China.

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