Indian Army spokesperson Col. Aman Anand has responded to ThePrint article, ‘Satellite images show China road runs deep into Arunachal‘, published on 6 September 2019, and said the author is deliberately trying to sensationalise old news of 2017 which has no relevance today and is entirely incorrect.
“The report and the headline have been specious and are intended only to sensationalize,” he said.
“The track as mentioned in the article was inadvertently constructed by PLA in 2017 and was immediately faced off by Indian army when they intruded across the LAC. Media had done story on the same in December 2017. PLA fell back immediately on realising their mistake. The matter since has been amicably solved through existing border mechanism. Indian army carried out plantation of trees on the intruded part and also constructed a stone wall to clearly mark to LAC. As on today the PLA restricts themselves to their side (sic),” the spokesperson said.
“India and China have well established diplomatic and military mechanisms to address all issues in our border areas. The two sides agree that maintenance of peace and tranquility in all areas of India-China border areas as a prerequisite to smooth development of overall bilateral relations. Both countries have also agreed to work towards a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement of the boundary question on the basis of 2005 Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles,” he said.
Author Abhijit Iyer-Mitra replies:
There are only two tangible claims in the rejoinder from the Indian Army spokesperson. Even these two tangibles, namely the plantation of trees and the existence of a wall, are not borne out by the imagery taken as late as 25 August 2019. The Colonel leaves out critical details that would have served to clarify the situation.
The Army: “Carried out plantation of trees and also constructed a stone wall”.
Image 1 is a high-resolution picture dated 25 August 2019. It shows the entire road on the Indian side but nowhere is any tree or wall visible.
The Army should provide us with the geographic coordinates of the trees planted as well as of the wall; the exact geographic coordinates of where according to the Army the Line of Actual Control (LAC) lies; and confirm whether the Google map marking of the LAC in this particular sector is correct or not.
Image 2, taken in August 2018, does indeed show a wall, but it is well inside the Chinese side of the border. (This clearly demonstrates our ability to pick up minuscule wall construction – walls that we were not able to find on the Indian side).
But as image 3, taken in June 2019, shows, the wall constructed in 2018 has disappeared. It is not known if the Indian Army removed the wall (and if so why, given the Army spokesperson makes no mention of its removal) or if the Chinese removed it and restarted their ingress into the Indian territory.
Moreover, the three canopies covering the track from the clearing on the Indian side to the wall are fully mature trees at the same height as the dense forest surrounding them, which seemingly rules out the claim that these trees were recently planted.
Additional slant imagery from December 2017 (image 4) and February 2018 (image 5, below) also show no evidence of tree plantation or construction of any wall.
These images raise the following questions:
a) Is the wall marked in image 2 indeed the location of the border wall?
b) How and when did this wall disappear?
c) If the road is now out of use by the Chinese, how does it remain so clearly marked (and therefore used), given the precipitation and rapid rate of flora regrowth should have covered the tracks in two years’ time?
d) Moreover, if heavy equipment has been used by India, how exactly did the equipment arrive there given the absence of any access road to this point?
The Army: “Inadvertently constructed by PLA in 2017” and “PLA fell back immediately on realising their mistake”.
The 6 September article in ThePrint showed that the incursion by the Chinese was deliberate based on following reasons:
a) It showed a careful and planned multi-year construction spanning at least three years, with support infrastructure for such construction at regular intervals on the Chinese side.
b) There have been reports of not one but two such incursions (Tuting and Upper Siang) in the region as has been previously reported.
c) The direction of the road clearly indicates a deliberate attempt to cut off the Bishing salient as noted in my article, and has formed part of repeated attempts to cut off this salient.
d) The Army’s claim that the entire construction of the road was “inadvertent” and a “mistake” would mean that the Chinese commanders built an expensive road to nowhere with no purpose; installed exceptional infrastructure for no apparent reason; and that the navigation equipment, the commanders of the Chinese army, and the road workers all collectively failed for a period of three years – from 2017 to 2019.
My question to the Army is: What exactly led the Army to conclude that the Chinese had built this road “inadvertently” and by “mistake”?
Also, I did not make these allegations. The claims about the Chinese incursion were made by a Member of Parliament of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Tapir Gao, as can be seen in this video dated 4 September 2019. In the video, he clearly states (starting at 2:30 minutes) that in Bishing, there was a 2-km deep intrusion last year (2018). All I have done is provided visual proof to the BJP MP’s claims.
ThePrint stands by the article.
(Geolocator image courtesy: @Detresfa_ and High-res imagery courtesy: @sbreakintl)
The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.