Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday renewed his criticism of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s handling of border tensions with China, saying that the threat from Beijing’s geopolitical strategy cannot be countered by just public relations management and manipulation of the media.
Gandhi shared a report by NDTV that said the Chinese Army was constructing ammunition storage facilities just 2.5 km away from Sinche-La Pass, on the eastern periphery of the contested Doklam plateau near the border between Bhutan and China.
“China’s geopolitical strategy cannot be countered by a PR driven media strategy,” Gandhi tweeted. “This simple fact seems to elude the minds of those running the Government of India.”
Satellite imagery accessed by NDTV showed the construction of what appears to be
“military-grade, hardened ammunition bunkers”, 7 km from Doka La, the site of the 2017 face-off between Indian and Chinese forces.
Tensions had intensified during the conflict in Doklam in 2017, a contested plateau close to Sikkim and near the tri-junction of the three countries – China, Bhutan and India. Both Thimphu and Beijing claim it as their territory. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.
The standoff began in June, when the Chinese started construction of a road on the Dolam plateau. After the Chinese Army refused to stop work, Indian Army personnel intervened and began a nine-week long stand-off. At the time, the military encounter was considered the most serious escalation between the countries since 1962.
On August 29, 2017, India announced that it was disengaging its troops from Doklam. While the status-quo at the site remains unchanged over the years, experts had pointed out that China continued to build up its military presence in the surrounding region.
Sim Tack, a leading satellite imagery expert and military analyst at Force Analysis, told NDTV that the construction of new ammunition storage bunkers in the region is likely aimed at reinforcing the Chinese troops at these bases, “allowing them to fight more efficiently if a conflict were to develop at Doklam”.
“This is a concerning development, especially following the recent discovery of the Chinese village across the border in Bhutan, and could point to renewed tensions in the Doklam area,” he added.
The reported construction of military facilities in Doklam also comes at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are trying to disengage in Ladakh after the worst border skirmish between the two countries in decades. Both India and China have accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time in 45 years.
The sides have held several rounds of talks by military, diplomatic and political officials, including negotiations between their foreign ministers and defence ministers in Moscow last month. But the standoff has persisted. Reports have suggested that multiple level of tens of thousands of soldiers from either side have been deployed to the border areas.