A 3D deep dive into the India–China border
ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre has built 3D satellite imagery— through the collection and analysis of new satellite imagery and using open-source datasets we have compiled (such as geolocated military & infrastructure positions) —to help assess current developments along the India–China border.
This new multimedia project can be found here.
India–China border tensions have become one of the Indo-Pacific’s defining territorial disputes. Over three decades of confidence-building measures and border agreements ended in June 2020 with the deaths of Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh. Despite multiple rounds of tactical and diplomatic talks in 2020–21, the military stand-off between the two Asian powers is currently at a stalemate. Before the Ladakh crisis, a 2017 stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Doklam highlighted the ongoing risk of an unsettled border.
The Chinese military’s activities on the contested border have been one of the key drivers behind the shift in the Indian public’s and government’s assessments of India’s relationship with China. The result has been a faster convergence in regional security and strategic policy directions. One obvious manifestation of this is the growing Quad partnership between New Delhi, Tokyo, Canberra and Washington. Events and activities on and around this contested border are important to understand, not only for regional dynamics but also because of the risk of conflict and escalation.
Today we launch phase 1 of this project, and it focuses on the Doklam region. Authored by satellite specialist Nathan Ruser and researcher Baani Grewal, our findings suggest that:
India and China have both continued their military infrastructure build-up along the border, including the construction of new frontline observation towers and forward troop bases. China has accelerated construction following the 2017 stand-off, and road construction continued through late 2020 and early 2021.
In Doklam, despite the 2017 disengagement agreement, China has exploited its de facto control of Bhutanese territory, allowing its military to continue building strategic road infrastructure, including a strategic ‘rear road’, towards Indian territory. There was a significant bout of construction in 2018 and 2019, following the stand-off.
India’s historical positions along the borderlands in the Doklam region have resulted in it maintaining a surveillance advantage throughout the area by using frontline positions abutting the border. However, China has consolidated its position across Doklam over the past 20 years, largely constructing in areas hidden by terrain from Indian positions. Some of this construction has accelerated since 2017.
Currently, approximately 50 square kilometres of internationally recognised Bhutanese territory is under the de-facto control of Beijing. The Chinese military continues to construct military positions and infrastructure in this area.
The result is a highly crowded border with built-up infrastructure and thousands of Indian and Chinese posts continuing to compete for strategic territorial advantage. This increases the risk of escalation and potential military conflict.
This exciting new online project is available here.
23 Sep 2021