A high-altitude tunnel is the latest source of tension in border relations between India and China

Hong Kong (CNN) — A tunnel built high in the mountains of northeastern India has become the latest issue in an escalating border dispute between New Delhi and Beijing.

The Sela Tunnel, inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month, has been hailed as an engineering feat in India – crossing the Himalayas at an altitude of about 3,900 meters – and a boon for the military, Which is fast and “capable of working in all weather conditions”. “Access to the tense de facto border with China.

It has drawn the attention of Beijing, whose long-standing disagreement with New Delhi over the disputed 3,379-km border has led to a clash between the two nuclear-armed powers in recent years.

This also includes 2020, when at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in a face-off between the two sides in Aksai Chin-Ladakh on the western parts of the border.

And, decades ago, the dispute led to war.

China also claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, where the tunnel was built, although the area has long served as Indian territory.

In recent days, Chinese officials have criticized the tunnel project and Modi’s state visit and accused New Delhi of taking steps to undermine peace along the border.

A Defense Ministry spokesman, using the Chinese name “Zhangnan”, said last week, “We demand that the Indian side stop any actions that could complicate the border issue… The Chinese military remains very vigilant and the national Will firmly defend sovereignty and territorial integrity.” “Or South Tibet to refer to Arunachal Pradesh.

India responded on Tuesday, criticizing Beijing’s “absurd claims” and saying the region was “an integral and inseparable part of India and will always remain so.”

The US State Department also supported India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh during a press conference on Wednesday and expressed strong opposition to “any unilateral efforts to advance territorial claims through infiltration or encroachment” across the border. Line of Actual Control (LAC), or actual border.

Beijing also responded, accusing Washington of “leaving no stone unturned in provoking and taking advantage of other countries’ conflicts to serve its own selfish geopolitical interests.”

The dispute, which underscores the deep tensions in relations between Asia’s two largest countries, comes as India is weeks away from national elections that are expected to provide a landslide support to Modi’s Hindu nationalist platform.

A similar phenomenon has occurred in China, with rising nationalism under Modi, where leader Xi Jinping has overseen an assertive foreign policy, though both sides appear to have eased border tensions after a deadly 2020 standoff. Steps have been taken to do so.

He warned that social media platforms should be wary of a possible agreement between the leaders there and China on that dispute.

Indian soldiers stand guard on a road in Ladakh in 2022. (Credit: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

deepened controversy

During his visit to Arunachal Pradesh earlier this month, Modi hailed the Sela Tunnel as an “engineering miracle”, while mentioning several other development projects related to border infrastructure.

Those projects are part of his government’s intensified effort to develop Indian territory along the disputed border. That push – which Beijing has signaled it is watching closely – reverses the Indian government’s traditional thinking that failing to develop the austere terrain would have a deterrent effect on Chinese encroachment or aggression.

Of the 118 projects launched last year by the Indian Border Roads Organization to build infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airfields, more than half were in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh along the disputed border with China.

Beijing has accused India of “complicating the border issue and worsening the situation in the border areas between the two countries” by such developments.

But observers say India is addressing an imbalance after decades of infrastructure and road building by China gave it a significant advantage over New Delhi in deploying troops to border areas, where it has deployed hundreds of “xiaokang” or Villages were also built, which Beijing denies. To claim their territorial rights.

“Now that India has recognized the benefits of border infrastructure, it is accelerating its construction efforts and trying to catch up with China. But their efforts are also likely to escalate tensions with China and encourage Beijing to double down on its own construction efforts,” said Byron Chong, a research associate at the Center for Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. he said.

The Sela Tunnel, which runs from Assam state to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, has attracted special attention from Beijing, possibly given the sensitivity of the area, which lies along the Line of Actual Control. New Delhi has said the project will “boost the preparedness of the armed forces.”

According to Indian officials, Tawang was the site of a non-fatal battle between the two sides in late 2022. New Delhi then accused Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops of trying to “unilaterally” change the status quo by attempting to cross the LAC.

But Tawang may also be particularly important to Beijing given its importance within Tibetan Buddhism and China’s concerns over the succession of spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, according to Manoj Kewalramani, who directs Indo-Pacific studies at the research center. . From Takshashila Institute in Bangalore.

The 88-year-old Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since a failed rebellion against Chinese rule over Tibet in 1959, where Beijing has banned religious practice and tried to assert its control over Tibetan Buddhism.

“Much of the pressure (on Arunachal Pradesh) at the moment is a result of apprehension about when that incident will happen… (in terms of) how China wants India to respond and what the possible consequences could be,” he said. ,

But even as the two sides remain united around the border, and China has been pushing to strengthen its territorial claims on its maps and official language, they have made diplomatic efforts to ease tensions after a deadly 2020 standoff.

During a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa last August, Modi and Xi agreed to “intensify efforts” to de-escalate tensions.

The Indian and Chinese armies have also continued border talks, the most recent of which took place last month, when they reiterated their commitment to “maintain peace and tranquility”.


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