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Beyond Tawang: China’s Frustration And New Delhi’s imperative
Aditya Bhan,ORF
2023-01-07
Region : South Asia, India, North East Asia, China,
Issue : Military Issues, Security, Politics,
On 9 December 2022, tensions flared along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as Indian troops thwarted an attempt by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to unilaterally alter the status quo in the Tawang sector of the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh.
The Chinese had arrived with 300 primed military personnel to the LAC but had not anticipated the Indian troops to be better prepared. Notwithstanding the latter’s befitting response to the Chinese troops, it is important for New Delhi to not only comprehend the motivation behind the PLA’s desperate antics but to also anticipate the adversary’s behaviour over the foreseeable future.
Beijing’s frustration
China has noted that even the political opposition in India is urging the Centre to leverage India’s G20 presidency to deter the Chinese. Given the reduced global weightage of its empty threats over the last few years, as exemplified by the Pelosi-Taiwan episode, China is also desperate to remind the world of its superiority. Targeting India might have seemed like the easiest option with the possible perception of New Delhi’s current global standing as “the lonely gun”, particularly due to its decision to walk a diplomatic tightrope on the Ukraine war, rather than blindly following the US-led West.
Finally, China’s President Xi Jinping is attempting to leverage foreign policy as a means of boosting domestic public approval. With his administration’s popularity having tanked in recent times due to the disastrous zero-COVID policy, jingoism and warmongering would appear as safe bets to distract and divide public attention. Renewed tensions in the Taiwan Strait are intended to serve the same purpose.
India’s resolve
Clearly, Beijing’s bullying has failed to deter New Delhi from pursuing infrastructure development—ranging from road construction to establishing a greenfield airport—in Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, India has accelerated infrastructure building, with emphasis on border linkages, the centre piece of which is the Arunachal Frontier Highway.
Further, the 13,700-feet high Sela tunnel is slated to be completed by July 2023, by the Border Roads Organisation, with work progressing at a fast clip (see Figure 1). The project includes broadening of the existent single-lane road to double-lane from Baisaki, as well as building two tunnels bypassing Sela and numerous hair pin turns. Once completed, the Sela tunnel will become the world’s longest bi-lane tunnel.
Finally, the Indian Armed Forces decided on a sizeable acquisition of the indigenous quasi-ballistic surface-to-surface Pralay missiles, shortly after the Tawang clash, with the Ministry of Defence sanctioning the purchase of 120 such missiles for deployment along the borders with China and Pakistan. These missiles can neutralise targets at distances ranging from 150 km to 500 km, and are extremely difficult to interceptgiven their ability to alter course after traveling a certain distance in flight.
New Delhi’s imperative
The Sela bi-lane tunnel is considered a threat by Beijing, to its recently developed border villages in the Dongzhang sector. Consequently, the PLA can be expected to carry out more manoeuvres aimed at dismantling and even demolishing Indian infrastructure and logistics in the area. It would, therefore, be prudent for New Delhi to prepare for more frequent and longer border impasses, including clashes and skirmishes, particularly in the eastern sector.
Development of advanced landing grounds (ALG) assumes particular importance. Consider the Pasighat ALG, which has been touted as important not only militarily but also from the viewpoint of trade, jobs, tourism and economic opportunities. However, this potential would only be realised once the airport is upgraded and connectivity enhanced with the rest of the country.
To these ends, the government must expeditiously enhance provision of funds for completion of the project. Similarly, the much-anticipated completion of the civil terminal building at Mechuka is critical, before beginning fixed-wing Dornier 228 aircraft services from the ALG. It must be emphasised, however, that quality of infrastructure must not be sacrificed at the altar of unrealistic project timelines.
Observer Research Foundation
ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.
This article originally appeared in Observer Research Foundation
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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