The Chinese and Indian militaries, locked in their worst border stand-off in decades, have shifted focus to logistical support as both sides race to bring in supplies for the thousands of troops in the remote Himalayan region before the brutal winter sets in.
Senior military commanders agreed on Monday that they would not send more troops to the front line in a bid to ease the renewed tensions on their disputed border. The troops’ survival at altitudes of over 4,500 metres, where oxygen is scarce and as temperatures plummet from October, was also a key concern in the talks, according to Indian media.
Both sides are now preparing for the harsh weather ahead, transporting supplies to the area in the Ladakh region, bordering Tibet, where they have sent extra troops in the past few months since tensions flared in May, according to observers.
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“[India’s] top military leadership … is looking at a deployment of about 30,000 troops in eastern Ladakh through the winter, and that measures including ‘advanced winter stocking’ – including food, fuel, ammunition – are being undertaken in an accelerated manner”, said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a distinguished fellow and head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
Zhou Chenming, a military expert in Beijing, said the People’s Liberation Army could have an advantage in its logistical support given China’s huge investments in infrastructure for its remote border counties under a nationwide poverty relief scheme in the past decades.
It has also started building at least 13 new military positions near its borders with India since the Doklam stand-off in 2017, including three airbases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports, according to a report by Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence platform, on Tuesday.
Zhou noted that the troops will have to endure harsh conditions and the area will be inaccessible over winter.
“Temperatures in the Himalayas can plunge below minus 40 degrees Celsius over winter, and all the key roads connecting to the outside world will be blocked for at least half a year,” he said. “Once winter sets in, there’s no way the two sides will be able to fight any more – survival will be the top priority.”
According to Chinese state media, the PLA has built aircraft aprons and several hospitals in Tibetan cities to connect with its military positions along the border with India.
The Chinese military’s official newspaper, PLA Daily, also reported earlier that the air force had modified its new Y-9 transport aircraft to be used as a “flying hospital” as part of efforts to improve medical support for troops, while drones were sent to deliver food to the front line in a recent drill.
India’s military has been transporting supplies including special winter clothing, arctic tents, food and fuel so its border troops can survive the tough conditions over the next six months, according to New Delhi-based news website ThePrint.
But neither side has shown a willingness to withdraw any troops, even though they realise the freezing confrontation over winter will become a “war of attrition”, said Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a military expert in New Delhi.
“Indian troops are stationed in Siachin [in the Ladakh region] for several years and the military is preparing for hardship,” Chaturvedy said. “If China tries to bring changes using force, it will get a befitting response. The Indian military is prepared and has the full support of the political leadership.”
The border dispute escalated in June when 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed in a violent brawl in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh – their most serious military clash in more than half a century.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Tibetan SFF soldier killed on India-China border told family: ‘we are finally fighting our enemy’
- China-India border row: risk of tangled ties if New Delhi looks to third parties, says expert
- China and India agree not to send more troops to border, says Chinese defence ministry
- China-India border dispute: New Delhi ‘expects Beijing to stand down first’ as top military chiefs meet
This article China, India send in supplies for thousands of border troops ahead of brutal winter first appeared on South China Morning Post