Border villages can help fight Chinese build-up - Hindustan Times
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Border villages can help fight Chinese build-up

Apr 24, 2023 06:49 PM IST

Under the Vibrant Villages Programme nearly 3,000 villages selected along the 3,400-km-long border are set to get better infrastructure facilities

India is pulling out all the stops to reach out to the “first citizens” who reside in hamlets along the India-China border. Under the Vibrant Villages Programme (VVP), nearly 3,000 villages selected along the 3,400-km-long border are set to get better infrastructure facilities, and 2,500 crore has been set aside to construct roads. In Arunachal Pradesh, hydel power projects are in the works and facilities of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel are in for an upgrade. In addition, telecom companies have been asked to improve mobile connectivity in Tawang district, which was the site of clashes between India and China in 2022. This mega infrastructure revamp comes close on the heels of China renaming areas in Arunachal, which it claims is a part of Tibet. The idea is to improve the quality of life in these areas and prevent migration to cities, thereby enhancing India’s border security.

Against the backdrop of the India-China border tension, the Vibrant Villages Programme marks a new assertiveness. At its launch, Union home minister Amit Shah asserted that India would not allow even an inch of its territory to be encroached upon. (ANI/PIB) PREMIUM
Against the backdrop of the India-China border tension, the Vibrant Villages Programme marks a new assertiveness. At its launch, Union home minister Amit Shah asserted that India would not allow even an inch of its territory to be encroached upon. (ANI/PIB)

Expanding territorial claims through building infrastructure and civilian-military fusion are key elements of China’s expansionism in the sea and on land. For example, this year, China announced that construction would commence on a rail line, linking Xinjiang and Tibet, which will run close to the Line of Actual Control and cut through the Aksai Chin region, which India claims and is under Chinese occupation. Similarly, under a transport plan unveiled in 2021, Beijing announced an expressway and a super-fast railway route, linking the mainland with Taiwan.

Since China began modernising the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), there has been an increase in its expansion, as evidenced by the reclamation of reefs and islands in the South China Sea. This has been followed by the construction of military facilities and other infrastructure. Under the pretext of protecting Chinese civilian fishing vessels, Beijing gained effective control of Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines. One of the lessons that China drew from the erstwhile Soviet Union’s collapse was that it had to secure the periphery to protect the hinterland. More than 70 years after China occupied Tibet, it has still not been able to completely erase the spiritual influence of the Dalai Lama, and the cultural ties between Tibet and India are a source of worry. Xi Jinping has underscored the need to secure the Tibetan borderland, following which emerged reports that villages were being constructed along the border in the Tibet Autonomous Region and a loyal population was being settled there. Subsequently, the Chinese State media began to increasingly refer to the area as Xizang Autonomous Region, which showed the regime’s increasing zeal to “sinicise” the local population. In 2022, the Land Border Law stipulated that the PLA and the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force were responsible for maintaining security along the border. The legislation said citizens were duty-bound to defend border infrastructure. It also emphasised the need to resettle the population and upgrade critical infrastructure along the border, and highlighted the need for political education to consolidate a sense of community and allegiance.

Against the backdrop of this tension, VVP marks a new assertiveness. At its launch, Union home minister Amit Shah asserted that India would not allow even an inch of its territory to be encroached upon. This speaks of a newfound confidence in India’s taking on the China challenge, moving away from past stances where minimal infrastructure along the Indian side was seen as necessary to slacken the ingress of Chinese troops in the eventuality of an invasion. There is also a no-nonsense approach to the issue of India’s territorial integrity, starting with the repealing of special status to Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. Last month, under its G20 presidency, India hosted a grouping meeting in Arunachal and another one is scheduled in Srinagar in May.

In the book Why Geography Matters, geographer Harm de Blij wrote about how Iraq published an official map just before the first Gulf War in 1990, showing Kuwait to be within its borders, but the development was largely ignored by the world. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. We must take China’s map fare even more seriously since the Mandarin character for “map” is the same as the verb “to the scheme”.

Harsh V Pant is vice-president, ORF, New Delhi and professor at King’s College. Kalpit Mankikar is fellow with ORF. The views expressed are personal

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