Satellite images have emerged showing new construction work at the base near the city of Hotan in Xinjiang province as tensions in the region once again threaten to boil over. The images appear to show two new runways being built at the joint military/civilian airport.
India Today reported construction was being “accelerated” at the Hotan facility which lies around 236 miles north of Pangong Tso Lake, a mountainous stretch of water dissected by the Line of Actual Control – the de facto border between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
It said: “The latest satellite images clearly show that grading work for two new airstrips began in the end of June.
“A new large possibly depot-level ammunition storage area suddenly cropped up in the month of July, and the plinth work of these ammunition buildings seems to be going on as of September 3.”
The report said it was likely new barracks were being constructed at the base and said the apparent upgrade was linked to the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, which is the Chinese military unit responsible for conventional and nuclear missiles.
Former Indian Army officer Vinayak Bhat said: “The Chinese intentions to prolong the stand-off are extremely clear with such constructions indicating that the PLA is not going back from the area in Pangong Tso Lake unless thrown out by the Indian armed forces.”
Beijing and New Delhi have been at loggerheads over where the border lies along the remote Himalayas mountain range.
This has often led to accusations from either side that troops have crossed the boundary line, even though its exact point has never been agreed upon.
Tensions boiled over in June when at least 20 Indian soldiers and possibly as many as 40 Chinese troops were killed in brutal hand-to-hand fighting sparked by rows over the position of a newly-installed Chinese border post.
The deadly clash led to an initial de-escalation in the region and the withdrawal of personnel and equipment but New Delhi is believed to have rushed 800 troops to the Indian side of Pangong Tso Lake earlier his month in response to fresh incursions by Beijing’s forces.
And in the latest spat, China has accused Indian troops of firing “warning shots” on troops on the south bank of the lake.
A PLA spokesman said the Indian Army crossed the LAC and described the incident as “serious military provocations of a very bad nature”.
China’s state-backed Global Times reported: “Chinese border defence troops were forced to take countermeasures to stabilise the situation after Indian troops outrageously fired warning shots to PLA border patrol soldiers who were about to negotiate.”
Ji Kong, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in India, said: “The Indian side’s actions seriously violated China’s territorial sovereignty, seriously violated the relevant agreements and important consensus of the two countries, and severely damaged the peace and tranquillity of the border area.
“This runs counter to the efforts of both sides to promote the relaxation of the situation on the ground for some time.”
Ministry spokesman Shri Anurag Srivastava said: “Due to the timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo.
“The actions and behaviour of the Chinese side since earlier this year along the LAC has been in clear violation of the bilateral agreements and protocols concluded between the two countries to ensure peace and tranquillity on the border.
“We expect the Chinese side to sincerely abide by the understanding reached earlier and earnestly work with India to resolve the situation and to restore peace and tranquillity in the border areas.”