‘New Highway’, ‘Old Dream’: China Builds New Road Near Ladakh To Better Prepare For Galwan-Like Clash

After suffering casualties in the Galwan Valley clash with the Indian Army in 2020, China accelerated work on a new highway near the simmering border with India.

The new highway G216 will pave the way for the rapid mobilization of Chinese troops during a similar confrontation between the two countries on the Line of Actual Control, as the de facto border between the two countries is known.

The new highway is an “old dream of Chinese leadership” and will be a critical strategic change for India in the region since 1950, when China constructed its only highway, G219, in Ladakh. Earlier, the treacherous terrain in the region has thwarted Beijing’s plan for infrastructure development. But not any longer.

In the Ladakh region, China has been apprehensive about the G219 (Akshai Chin) highway, which runs along the country’s entire western and southern border linking the regions of Xinjiang with Tibet; it is built on Indian land of Aksai Chin gifted to Beijing by Islamabad.

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, a media report said.

Plans for the highway network that can move Chinese troops into future hot zones were announced by Beijing in July 2022 to create “strategic backbone passages out of Xinjiang and into Tibet.” Newsweek analyzed the publicly available footage showing new sections of the G216 highways now accessible to tourists traveling across Xinjiang.

In November, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced the opening of a new tunnel from Urumqi to Yuli County, both in Xinjiang. The tunnel is claimed to be the world’s longest. The construction of the tunnel was much celebrated on social media, but its strategic importance is the progress in linking its regions on the disputed border with India in Ladakh.

China has sped up the construction on the G216 highway after the May 2020 Galwan Valley clashes with the Indian Army. The aftermath saw the militaries of both countries remaining in a military standoff on the border.

In case of another episode like this, the Chinese troops will not solely depend on G219 now. The G216 will now help in mobilizing the biggest chunk of the Chinese forces.

Originally, this G-216 national highway was designed for 857 kilometers in length, but after landslides blocked Zhangmu’s port of entry for a while, G-216 became the only link between Nepal and Tibet.

With the G-216 national highway ending up near the Nepalese border, it brings Chinese presence next door to India’s only buffer zone but from a different direction.

The work on the highway started in 1951 when Mao Zedong wanted to link the county’s newly acquired provinces, Sinkiang (today Xinjiang), annexed in 1949, and Tibet invaded in 1950. It was deemed a national priority to link the two provinces. However, a volcano eruption stalled the construction.

The project was taken up by President Xi Jinping, and G216 is now becoming a reality.

India Watching The “Bully” Bulwarking Its Defenses

“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, General MM Naravane (retired) told the EurAsian Times in response to a query about the realization of the second highway on the Chinese side.

General Naravane was the Indian Army Chief during the 2020 Galwan Clash. His memoirs, ‘Four Stars of Destiny,’ are slated for a release in 2024. The media reports enumerated the unprecedented details about the skirmish between the two forces on the night of June 15, 2020, when 20 Indian soldiers were killed, and casualties on the Chinese side remain unspecified.

In his memoir ‘Four Stars of Destiny,’ Naravane writes about China. A report in the Indian news agency reports: “They (China) had been following wolf-warrior diplomacy and salami-slicing tactics everywhere with impunity, browbeating smaller neighbors like Nepal and Bhutan, while staking their ever-increasing claims in the South China Sea, without having to pay any costs, especially in terms of human lives.

“It took India and the Indian Army to show to the world that enough is enough and to challenge the neighborhood bully.”

Ahead of his book release, the Indian PTI news agency said the former Indian Army chief provides a gripping account of the clash that strained the ties between the two Asian giants and served as a catalyst for troops on both sides to increase their combat readiness along the LAC.

General Naravane writes that Chinese President Xi Jinping will not forget June 16 any time soon as China’s People’s Liberation Army suffered “fatal casualties” for the first time in over two decades in the fighting.

“June 16 is (Chinese President) Xi Jinping’s birthday. This is not a day he will forget any time soon. For the first time in over two decades, the Chinese and the PLA had suffered fatal casualties,” Naravane writes.

India China clash
File: Clash between India and Chinese soldiers

According to the former Indian Army Chief, the Galwan Valley clash was caused due to the refusal of Chinese troops to remove two tents pitched on Patrolling Point 14 (PP-14). The Indian Army, in turn, erected its tents in the general area. He adds that following their refusal, the Indian Army decided to pitch its tents in the same general area.

Better connectivity added to the fast mobilization of the Chinese troops on their side, as they could move in armored personnel carriers. The ensuing face-off between the troops brandishing clubs wrapped with concertina wire and other makeshift weapons saw the death of 20 Indian soldiers. China initially denied any casualties, only to own up to the deaths of 4-5 personnel several months later.

General Naravane, however, pegs the number to be higher based on the account of the Indian soldiers held captive by the Chinese forces. Naravane also mentions a report by a group of Australian researchers that put the figure of Chinese fatalities to at least 38. A separate Russian (TASS) report put the figure closer to 45 killed, which was consistent with other intelligence reports, including those from the US, he says.

  • 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) mail.com
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