Wednesday 28 October 2020

PLA building heliport at India-Bhutan-China tri-junction, missile launchpad in Kailash-Mansarovar

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Open source satellite imagery has captured what appears to be a heliport that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China is building in close proximity to two new air defence positions that cover sensitive stretches of the disputed border in Doklam and Sikkim sectors.

China has built a surface-to-air missile near a lake too. This is a part of the Kailash-Mansarovar.

‘PLA construction shows China’s disdain for Hinduism’

Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, commonly known as the Kailash-Mansarovar site is revered by four religions and is linked to culture and spiritual scriptures in India. While the Hindus consider the site as the abode of Shiva and his consort Parvati, the Tibetan Buddhists call the mountain Kang Rimpoche, the “Precious One of Glacial Snow,” and revere it as the abode of Demchog and his consort, Dorje Phagmo.

The Jains call the mountain Astapada and consider it to be the place where the first of their 24 spiritual masters achieved liberation. The Bons, adherents of the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, term the mountain Tise and revere it the dwelling place of the sky goddess, Sipaimen.

The placing of the missile at the sacred site, which is also the origin of four transnational rivers — Indus, Brahmaputra, Sutlej and Karnali, a major tributary of the Ganges, menaces India, which has refused to back down against Chinese aggression on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“In my view, first and foremost, it is a continuation of the Chinese provocation against India, which we are seeing all along from the LAC in Ladakh to the eastern and middle sector bordering areas with India,” Priyajit Debsarkar, author and a geopolitical analyst with the London-based think tank Bridge India, told The Epoch Times via e-mail.

“This move, of deploying a surface-to-air missile in Tibet, should not surprise us. It is pure authoritarian brinkmanship and provocation to India, which has refused to back down against Chinese threats and aggressive aggression,” Debsarkar said.

Aparna Pande, a research fellow and the director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, told the newspaper that China does not respect and believe in religion and culture.

“We have to bear in mind that the Chinese do not care about Christianity. They do not care about any of the ancient Chinese practices. They believe religion is the opium of the masses and the only ideology they care about is their form of communism,” Pande said.

“They don’t care about symbols and symbolism except those that are tied to the Chinese Communist Party,” she was quoted as saying.

Harsh Pant, a New Delhi-based strategic analyst with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), echoed similar sentiments and stated that China’s move of creating military infrastructure at Kailash-Mansarovar will only intensify the anti-China sentiment within India.

“The fact that this happens to be one of the most sacred religious sites for the Hindus is also indicative of the disdain Beijing has for Indian sentiments,” Pant said.

“This is only going to accentuate tensions in an already troubled relationship and will not only make Indian public even more antagonistic to China but will also make Indian policymakers even more determined to stand up to China,” he added.

The missile base at Kailash-Mansarovar is a part of China’s greater militarisation of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), according to Girish Kant Pandey, professor of defence studies at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in Raipur.

“The missile mounted near Kailash-Mansarovar is called DF-21. It is a medium-range, 2,200 kilometres ballistic missile. Its advantage is that it can cover all cities of north India, including New Delhi,” Pandey told The Epoch Times over the phone.

The heliport

As for the heliport, the imagery, which the open-source intelligence analyst has shared using the Twitter handle @detresfa, shows the suspected heliport under construction at the tri-junction of the borders of India, Bhutan and China, and at a distance of about 100 km from Doka La (Doka pass) and Naku La (Naku pass).

“Suspected PLA heliport infrastructure spotted part of an ongoing investigation near the #Doklam region of the #India #China #Bhutan tri junction, this support unit could sustain all weather & rapid troop deployments in the sector along with improving surveillance operations,” the analyst tweeted.

The suspected heliport is located almost equidistant from the two sites at which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is developing surface-to-air missile facilities, according to imagery tweeted earlier by @detresfa. Both the missile facilities are near what have been described as “suspected early warning radar sites” opposite Sikkim state.

In a graphic posted on Twitter, @detresfa said the “steady build-up of support infrastructure by the People’s Liberation Army of China areas with a history of clashes disputed territorial claims demonstrates the long-term Chinese ambitions in these sectors”.

“With the addition of a heliport along with area denial systems within 100 km from Doka La and Naku La, China would be able to sustain all weather operations in the disputed areas regardless of the harsh terrain conditions,” according to the graphic.

The new missile facilities are located roughly 50 km from Naku La (Naku pass), where troops from the two countries had clashed on 9 May, and Doka La (Doka pass), close to the Doklam plateau that was the scene of a 73-day military standoff between India and China in 2017.

Four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers were injured in the clash at Naku La, the second such reported incident since the current standoff began in early May.

There was no immediate reaction from Indian officials to the reported development of the heliport and the missile sites by the Chinese.

After the end of the Doklam standoff in 2017 following several rounds of negotiations, there were reports the Chinese side hadn’t fully pulled back its troops from the area. There were also reports that Chinese troops had built trenches, fortified positions and infrastructure to support operations by helicopters and aircraft in the area.

Last month, Media had first reported that China had officially stated for the first time that it has a boundary dispute with Bhutan in the eastern sector, a development with significant implications for India as the region borders Arunachal Pradesh state, which is also claimed by Beijing.

Earlier this month, @detresfa had used open source satellite imagery to report that China had stepped up work on military infrastructure opposite Lipulekh region in Uttarakhand. The infrastructure included a surface-to-air missile site on the banks of Mansarovar Lake in Tibet.

The imagery showed what appeared to be two sites at which PLA is creating new infrastructure and accommodation. Both are not far from the Kalapani-Lipulekh region that is at the heart of a new border row between India and Nepal.

These developments come against the backdrop of the Indian Army’s acknowledgement on 31 August that its troops had pre-empted efforts by PLA to unilaterally change the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the southern bank of Pangong lake in the Ladakh sector.

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