China is ‘bribing’ locals with homes and subsidies to persuade them to move to newly-built villages in the disputed border territory with India.
Tensions have been ramping up along the border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), over the past year, with both sides building up their military presence as Beijing aggressively pushes its territorial claims.
A member of parliament from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Tapir Gao, told The Daily Telegraph that China has built houses on Indian land.
“China has occupied our territory… They have built more than 100 houses,” Gao said, citing a new village that he said was located on the banks of the River Tsari Chu in the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.
Officials believe China is currently constructing more than 600 such villages along the LAC, according to reports.
The area is remote with harsh weather conditions, but the villages are said to include high-quality infrastructure as roads, water, electricity and a communication network to entice new residents.
A resident of one border defence village was quoted by the Tibet Daily as saying that he received various subsidies amounting to 30,000 yuan (£3,500) a year to live there, according to the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank.
“China lures locals by providing them with better-living facilities so that they come to live in the disputed border areas and create permanent settlements. By doing so, China grabs our land and also claims sovereign rights on the disputed land,” said Konchok Stanzin, a councillor in India’s Ladakh border region.
Similar views were echoed by several locals who spoke to the Telegraph in Arunachal Pradesh.
These villages have a “dual use”, Stanzin suggested – operating both as permanent residential settlements on disputed land and as military stations in times of hostilities.
Stanzin is pressing New Delhi to invest in similar infrastructure along the border.
Despite the testimony from local residents and politicians, the Indian government denies that China has built on Indian territory.
Opposition Congress leader Manish Tiwari said “The BJP is trapped in their own rhetoric of muscular nationalism. And now when the Chinese have been sitting inside Indian territory for the past 15 months… the BJP is unable to tell the truth to the nation because it would then mean they have conceded Indian territory to China. So all kinds of excuses are being trotted out, like… that they [China] are [only building] on their side of the LAC.”
Tiwari suggested this played into Beijing’s hands as it allowed them to continue with their tactics unchallenged.
China watcher Brahma Chellaney said the situation in the Himalayas was looking increasingly like the South China Sea, where China has been pushing expansionist policies and building in disputed areas.
“The village-building spree is designed with a purpose: By creating civilian settlements in desolate, previously uninhabited border areas that are disputed or were forcibly occupied by it, China is seeking to assert its rights under international law. In other words, it has undertaken unlawful action with the intent of legitimising its territorial claims,” Chellaney told the Telegraph.
On 24th October, China passed a new law that essentially empowers the state to improve infrastructure in border areas and enable the settlement of people. It will come into effect from 1st January.
“These villages are part of China’s legal warfare and the new borderland law will provide a legal basis to these villages. It means China will stake a legal claim on all the territory that China considers its sovereign territory, like they consider Arunachal Pradesh to be south Tibet,” said Pravin Sawhney, one of India’s top strategic analysts.
According to reports, China has provided 30.1 billion yuan for these villages.
The People’s Liberation Army is also conducting regular tank exercises near the LAC and has blocked Indian troops from carrying out patrols at flashpoints in the Depsang plains, an area China claims beyond the 1959 line, a senior Indian army official told the Telegraph on condition of anonymity.
The show of strength follows the recent failure of the 13th round of talks between Beijing and Delhi over the Himalayan border region, where 20 troops were killed in brutal hand-to-hand fighting last year.
It means that instead of removing forces from the border over the harsh winter, as many as 50,000 Indian soldiers will stay on the line for a second consecutive year.
“These are psychological operations. We are prepared for the war if it is imposed on us,” said the army officer.