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A 3D deep dive into the India–China border

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A 3D deep dive into the India–China border

Overview

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.

visualisation

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.

Project website

This exciting new online project is available here.

ADF

Australian Defence Force

ACSC

Australian Cyber Security Centre

IEC

the International Electrotechnical Commission

IEEE

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

IoT

Internet of Things

IoTAA

Internet of Things Alliance Australia

ISO

International Organisation for Standardization

USB

universal serial bus

IIOT

Industrial Internet of Things

ASD

Australian Signals Directorate

CCP

Chinese Communist Party

MERICS

Mercator Institute for China Studies

PRC

Peoples Republic of China

VPN

virtual private network

AI

Artificial Intelligence

SCS

Social Credit System

BRI

One Belt, One Road initiative

CETC

China Electronics Technology Group Corporation

NGO

nongovernment organisation

RFID

radio-frequency identification

CFIUS

Committee on Foreign Investment in the US

SVAIL

Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

UTS

University of Technology Sydney

ATO

Australian Taxation Office

COAG

Council of Australian Governments

DHS

Department of Human Services

DTA

Digital Transformation Agency

FIS

Face Identification Service

FVS

Face Verification Service

TDIF

Trusted Digital Identity Framework

NUDT

National University of Defense Technology

PLAIEU

PLA Information Engineering University

RFEU

Rocket Force Engineering University

STEM

science, technology, engineering and mathematics

UNSW

University of New South Wales

ZISTI

Zhengzhou Information Science and Technology Institute

AFP

Australian Federal Police

ACIC

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission

NATO

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

A4P

Action for Peacekeeping

ASEAN

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

C-34

Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations

CTOAP

Peacekeeping Training Centre (Timor-Leste)

F-FDTL

Timor-Leste Defence Force

MFO

Multinational Force and Observers

MINUSCA

UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic

MINUSMA

UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali

MONUSCO

UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

PNGDF

Papua New Guinea Defence Force

PNTL

National Police of Timor-Leste

RAMSI

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands

RFMF

Republic of Fiji Military Forces

RPNGC

Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary

RSIPF

Royal Solomon Islands Police Force

UNAMI

UN Assistance Mission for Iraq

UNAMID

UN–African Union Mission in Darfur

UNAMIR

UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda

UNAVEM

UN Angola Verification Mission

UNDOF

UN Disengagement Observer Force

UNIFIL

UN Interim Force in Lebanon

UNIKOM

UN Iraq–Kuwait Observation Mission

UNIOGBIS

UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office for Guinea-Bissau

UNISFA

UN Interim Security Force for Abyei

UNOSOM

UN Operation in Somalia

UNMHA

UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement

UNMIBH

UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina

UNMIK

UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo

UNMIL

UN Mission in Liberia

UNMIS

UN Mission in Sudan

UNMISET

UN Mission of Support to East Timor

UNMISS

UN Mission in South Sudan

UNMIT

UN Integrated Mission in East Timor

UNOTIL

UN Office in East Timor

UNSMIS

UN Supervision Mission in Syria

UNTAC

UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia

UNTAES

UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium

UNTAET

UN Transitional Administration in East Timor

UNTSO

UN Truce Supervision Organization