China appears to have added new structures near the site of a deadly border clash with India in the western Himalayas, fresh satellite pictures show, heightening concerns about further flare-ups between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Indian and Chinese military commanders agreed on Monday to step back from a weeks-old standoff at several locations along their disputed border following the June 15 clash in the Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, the deadliest clash between the two countries in 45 years.
The satellite images showing new construction activity in the week following the brutal hand-to-hand combat underline the challenge of disengagement and the risk of the accord still falling apart because of overlapping claims in the arid territory.
The Galwan Valley, where the clash occurred, falls within a remote stretch of the 3,380-km (2,100-mile) Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto border established following a war between India and China in 1962 that resulted in an uneasy truce.
The pictures shot on Monday by US-based space technology firm Maxar Technologies show what appear to be extensive Chinese structures on a raised river terrace overlooking the Galwan River.
India says the area where the structures have sprung up are on its side of the poorly defined, undemarcated LAC between the two Asian nuclear powers.
China says the whole of Galwan Valley, located at about 14,000ft (4,300m), is its territory and blames Indian troops for triggering the clashes.
The new activity includes camouflaged tents or covered structures against the base of a cliff, and a short distance away, a potential new camp under construction with walls or barricades. The camp was not seen in pictures made available to Reuters news agency the previous week.
Nathan Ruser, a satellite data expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the build-up suggested there was little sign of de-escalation.
“Satellite imagery from the Galwan Valley on June 22nd shows that ‘disengagement’ really isn’t the word that the [Indian] government should be using,” he said in a post on Twitter.
On the Indian side, defensive barriers can be seen in the latest images which were not visible in pictures taken in May. An Indian forward post appears to be scaled back compared with images a month ago.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the apparent activity.
India’s defence ministry also did not respond to a request for a comment.
Indian military officials have previously said they will be closely monitoring the planned disengagement process and verify it on the ground.
“There is a trust deficit so far as the Chinese are concerned,” said former Indian army chief Deepak Kapoor.
“So if they are telling us verbally they are ready to pull back, we will wait to see it on the ground. Until then the armed forces will be on alert.”
Meanwhile, India’s army chief on Wednesday visited Galwan Valley to review his troops’ preparedness amid tensions with China. He also visited injured soldiers in a hospital in Leh, Ladakh’s region largest city.
An Indian army tweet said General Manoj Mukund Naravane visited “forward areas in eastern Ladakh and reviewed operation situation on the ground”.
The trip comes amid news reports that the Chinese army had crossed the disputed border in another strategic area in the Depsang Plains. There was no immediate comment by the Indian army.
The Indian Express newspaper reported that the intrusion was seen as another attempt by the Chinese to shift the Line of Actual Control farther west on the disputed border.
Rahul Bedi, a defence analyst, said that despite claims of mutual disengagement, the tensions between Indian and China forces were still high along the LAC.
“India is trying to match China’s military assets in the region. The Chinese have ingressed disputed areas where both sides are trying to manoeuver the situation to their advantage,” Bedi said, adding that he did not see a quick end to the crisis.