China ‘Heats-Up’ Indian Border With Civil-Military Fusion, Dual Use Villages To Assert Claims Near Disputed LAC

India’s China problem has been festering for some time now. The new Indian government will have a task cut out for it to arrest the downward spiral of ties with China as Beijing has already begun upgrading its “xiaokang” (villages) along the 3,500-kilometer-long border with India. Experts see it as a “gray zone” tool from China’s playbook to assert claims on disputed areas.

These villages have “military and dual-use infrastructure,” and many are clustered along the eastern sector that borders Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that China covets and claims to be “South Tibet.”

A no-patrol buffer zone was created around Patrolling Point-14 in Galwan Valley three weeks after the violent clash in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed on June 15, 2020. China, however, has recently completed construction of a road from the north of Samzungling to the Galwan Valley, providing the PLA with a 15 km shorter alternate axis to rapidly build up troops in the area.

China has also tried to offset its air combat disadvantage at high altitudes by deploying its J-20 and J-10 fighters closer to the border.

The infrastructure building is indicative of China’s efforts “to use gray zone tactics to advance its strategic and security interests in disputed areas while staying below the threshold of armed conflict.”

“By building civilian villages, China can increase the population of remote border areas, adding legitimacy to its territorial claims. This simultaneously creates the necessary infrastructure to better support military and police forces, which, in turn, helps to protect local civilians from perceived threats across the border,” an analysis by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) contends.

The analysis, done under the China Power Project, elucidates how these villages are located as close as just seven kilometers from the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The border village of Zhuangnan (庄南) has seen significant additions to military or paramilitary infrastructure in recent years.

Previously, satellite images showed a walled complex with at least eleven buildings in 2019. By 2020, some buildings will be demolished to pave for new ones. In 2022, barracks-like structures appeared along with a large building and a radome or communication tower. An image from December 31, 2023, showed the construction of new infrastructure for monitoring or logistics support purposes.

“The barracks, perimeter walls, and radome/communications tower located at these complexes indicate the likely presence of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It is also possible these facilities are operated by the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP). Under China’s Land Borders Law, these two forces share responsibility for defending China’s borders from armed attacks or other encroachments,” the commentary reads.

The location of these villages so close to the border indicates that it gives the Chinese Army and Para Military forces a “vantage point” for monitoring activities along the border.

Indian experts have been raising concerns over the massive infrastructure building on the Chinese side of the border.

Former Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane (retired) told the EurAsian Times: “China has been investing in creating infrastructure, especially roads and railways in border areas ostensibly for the benefit of local people. However, in the absence of any sizable local population to justify such investment, it is apparent that such developments are for military purposes.”

Another village, Majiduncan, less than 10 km northwest of the disputed border, has seen many infrastructure additions over the past two years. Earlier, it had few buildings and a helipad, but by November 2023, images show that a huge building complex had emerged alongside two helipads and a paved network of roads.

“Given the region’s mountainous terrain, helipads play a key role in facilitating the swift movement of people, equipment, and supplies in the area, especially during emergencies,” the CSIS commentary reads.

Representation Image

Civil-Military Fusion To Assert Claims

The dual-use facilities align with China’s Land Borders Law, which embeds border defense into the responsibilities of border area governments. The border villages are meant to strengthen the construction of defense infrastructure to maintain border security.

“This emphasis on leveraging civilian villages to support the military bears the hallmarks of China’s “military-civil fusion” strategy, which aims to fuse China’s economic and military development to support overall national objectives,” the report reads.

China has also been constructing a new highway, G216, along the Ladakh region of India, which will allow the rapid mobilization of Chinese troops during a similar confrontation between the two countries on the LAC.

So far, China has only one highway, G219, in Ladakh. Earlier, the treacherous terrain in the region thwarted Beijing’s plan for infrastructure development. But not anymore. The sole highway has been vulnerable to the Indian military. And now, China is close to eliminating its vulnerability by completing an alternate route known as the G216.

The CSIS analysis covers just four villages. In recent years, China has expanded and upgraded its civilian and military infrastructure in the area.

The Pentagon’s 2023 Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China said that Beijing continued to develop military infrastructure along the LAC. “These improvements include underground storage facilities near Doklam, new roads in all three sectors of the LAC, new villages in disputed areas in neighboring Bhutan, a second bridge over Pangong Lake, a dual-purpose airport near the center sector, and multiple helipads,” the report said.

With the adversarial ties between India and China showing signs of improvement, New Delhi has also started building strategic infrastructure on the border. India has been building tunnels, roads, and bridges on its side of the border for quick deployment of troops and weapons.

However, beyond infrastructure development, the new Indian government will need to focus on defense acquisition for its military to continue combating parity with China.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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