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China-India border: building boom in the Himalayas as Beijing shores up troops and weapons for winter

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The PLA has been building underground facilities along its borders with India in the Himalayas. Photo: Handout

China has built underground shelters along its borders with India in the Himalayas to protect its troops and weapons as tensions between the two countries persist into the harsh winter.

The People’s Liberation Army Western Theatre Command, which oversees the border areas with India, has sped up construction of below-ground facilities to preserve most of its strategic bases and barracks, according to Chinese state media and a military observer.

Posts appeared on Chinese social media showing the subterranean structures and quoted experts at a recent impact dynamics seminar organised by State Key Laboratory of Explosion Science and Technology in Beijing as saying they were designed for military assets of strategic value, such as an underground command centre, hangars or missile storage.

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank, said building the underground projects along the China-India border was intended to provide a safe living and working environment for PLA troops stationed in the remote region.

“Those underground barracks were built at the front line over 5,000 metres [16,000 feet] above sea level as defensive lines to prevent any raids from the Indian side,” Zhou said.

“Those bunkers could be used as barracks and ammunition storage, while soldiers stationed at the second defence line all live in thermal insulation composites with comprehensive domestic installations, such as greenhouses and hot water.”

Zhou said the PLA had built underground facilities as safe shelter for frontline troops since China fought in the Korean war (1951-1953), although modern technology and earthmoving machinery had improved construction.

“All the bunkers look like cut-and-fill type facilities from the outside, with some entrances with camouflage coverage.”

Last week, state broadcaster CCTV reported on a medical troop from the Xinjiang Military District conducting a battlefield first aid drill at over 4,800 metres altitude, with video footage showing the soldiers emerging from an underground facility, its exit covered in camouflage material.

In January, CCTV reported the PLA had established its first fully-fledged strategic observation post at 5,592 metres above sea level on the Doklam Plateau to observe every move by India. Video showed the post was built above an underground facility housing about a dozen soldiers.

CCTV said that in the aftermath of the 2017 Doklam stand-off, strategic observation posts such as the “5592 post”, with its warm and windproof underground bunkers, had become common along the border.

The Doklam stand-off was triggered by road construction disputes between China and India, which added to national animosity left over from their bloody border skirmish in 1962 which left thousands dead, wounded or missing.

In 2019, the New Delhi-based The Print website cited satellite imagery, saying the PLA’s Tibet Military District had been upgrading two big-scale underground facilities in Lhoka, bordering Tibet and India, since the Doklam stand-off.

The Print said underground bunkers, which China built in late 1990, had been expanded to include intense security with access control systems, and it speculated they might be used to store ammunition and missiles, as well as serving as the Tibet Military District’s headquarters.