China has constructed a new village consisting of 101 homes, approximately 4.5 kilometres within the Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh, NDTV reported on Monday, citing satellite images accessed by it. The village, located on the banks of the River Tsari Chu, in the Upper Subansiri district of the state could not be seen in satellite images of the same area taken in August 2019, suggesting that the construction was done at some point since then, according to the television channel.

China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet, while India contests it.

In its response to the report, the Ministry of External Affairs did not deny the presence of the village, but said that China had been carrying out such activities in the past too, according to ANI. “We have seen recent reports on China undertaking construction work along the border areas with India,” the foreign ministry said. “China has undertaken such infrastructure construction activity in the past several years.”

The ministry said that India has stepped up the construction of border infrastructure, including roads and bridges for the improvement of livelihood of its citizens, including in Arunachal Pradesh.

The foreign ministry’s statement came after the satellite images, taken on November 1, 2020, were sent to it, with queries on the matter, according to NDTV. It, however, did not directly respond to a question on whether the construction of the village was diplomatically raised with China. Instead the ministry said: “Government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all the necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Significantly, Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Arunachal East Tapir Gao has repeatedly raised the matter of Chinese incursion in several parts of the state. The Army had denied his claimed when he first mentioned the matter in September 2019. However, he raised the matter in Lok Sabha yet again in November 2019.

In an interview to in June last year, he mentioned Upper Subansiri district as one of the areas where incursions took place. Speaking to NDTV on Monday, Gao said that construction by the Chinese was still going on. “China has entered more than 60-70 kms inside the upper Subansiri district if you follow the path along the river,” he said. “They are constructing a road along the river known locally as the Lensi as it flows in the direction of the Subansiri river.’’

In its report, NDTV showed two images of the area where it said the village has been set up. According to the channel, the first image dated August 26, 2019, did not show any human habitation but the second one of November 2020 shows a row of structures.

Meanwhile, experts opined that the construction of the village was significant and that it appeared to be in violation of agreements between the two countries, reported NDTV. “[It] is an extraordinarily serious issue as it has many other implications elsewhere on the boundary,” Claude Arpi, an expert in India-China relations, told the news channel. Arpi also confirmed that the village was “well south of the McMahon line and the Indian perception of the Line of Actual Control”.

McMahon Line is the demarcation between Tibet and India’s North East, which New Delhi believes marks the boundary between India and China in the region. But this is disputed by Beijing.

Indo-China tensions

The report on construction of the village came when tensions between Indian and China have run high since June when initial scuffles between both sides led to a pitched battle – without firearms – and saw 20 Indian soldiers killed in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. China is also believed to have suffered casualties, but has not given any details. Both India and China have accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time in 45 years.

With eight rounds of Corps Commander-level talks failing to resolve the standoff, both countries have deployed troops and tanks in sub-zero conditions. India has constantly maintained that the onus is on China to carry forward the process of disengagement and de-escalation at the friction points in the mountainous region.