A high-altitude tunnel is latest flashpoint in India-China border tensions

A high-altitude tunnel is latest flashpoint in India-China border tensions - Politics - News

The Sela Tunnel Dispute: A New Flashpoint in the Long-Standing India-China Border Controversy

The construction of a tunnel at an elevation of around 13,000 feet (3,900 meters) in the northeastern Indian mountains has recently emerged as a significant point of contention between India and China in their long-standing border dispute.

The Sela Tunnel, inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month, has been hailed in India as a remarkable engineering achievement and an advantageous development for the military. It enables faster access to the tense de facto border with China, ensuring all-weather connectivity.

However, this project has caught Beijing’s attention due to its strategic location near the contested 2,100-mile (3,379-kilometer) border between the two countries. Their long-standing border dispute has led to military clashes in recent years, including a violent hand-to-hand encounter in 2020 that resulted in the deaths of at least 24 soldiers (20 Indian and four Chinese) in Aksai Chin-Ladakh, a western stretch of the border.

Moreover, China also claims Arunachal Pradesh, where the Sela Tunnel was constructed, as its own territory. This issue has been a source of tension between India and China for decades, leading to war in the past.

In response to Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and the tunnel project, Chinese officials have criticized India for threatening peace along the border. They emphasized that China’s military remains highly vigilant to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

India has dismissed these claims, asserting that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and will always remain so. The US State Department also expressed its support for India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh, voicing strong opposition to any attempts by China to advance territorial claims through incursions or encroachment across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

This dispute underscores the deep-seated tensions between Asia’s two largest countries and comes as India prepares for national elections, expected to deliver a resounding endorsement of Modi’s Hindu nationalist platform. The border dispute between the two countries has been further complicated by rising nationalism and assertive foreign policies on both sides.

Modi also visited Bhutan to cement their partnership, as the Himalayan country shares a border with Arunachal Pradesh and China. During his visit, Modi praised the Sela Tunnel as an “engineering marvel.” The Indian government’s intensified push to develop infrastructure along the contested border with China has drawn criticism from Beijing, who accuses India of complicating the boundary question.

Observers believe that India’s efforts to develop its border infrastructure are a response to China’s significant advantage in deploying troops and constructing infrastructure along the LAC over several decades. They warn that such efforts may raise tensions with China and encourage Beijing to redouble its own building efforts.

The Sela Tunnel, which runs from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang district, is particularly significant due to its location along the LAC. India has stated that it will boost the preparedness of its armed forces in the area. Tawang was also the site of a non-lethal scuffle between Indian and Chinese troops in late 2022, when China attempted to cross the LAC.

Tawang’s significance extends beyond its strategic importance as it is a crucial site in Tibetan Buddhism and a matter of concern for China regarding the succession of the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since 1959, is a source of potential instability for China as they seek to control Tibetan Buddhism and suppress religious practice.

Despite the escalating tensions, both sides have made diplomatic efforts to reduce border tensions following the deadly 2020 clash. During a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa, Modi and Xi agreed to intensify efforts to de-escalate tensions. The Indian and Chinese militaries have also continued to hold border talks, with the most recent one taking place last month, where they reiterated their commitment to maintaining peace and tranquility along the border.