Satellite imagery shows China creating new military logistics hub in Tibet

  • Experts say the move comes in a bid to bolster connectivity and infrastructure for operations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Infrastructure upgrades south of Xigaze Airport.(@detresfa_/Twitter)
Infrastructure upgrades south of Xigaze Airport.(@detresfa_/Twitter)
Updated on Jan 11, 2021 10:29 PM IST
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By | Edited by Sparshita Saxena, New Delhi

China is working on what appears to be a major military logistics hub at Xigatse in Tibet, according to new satellite imagery. Experts believe the move is in line with Beijing’s efforts to ramp up connectivity and infrastructure for operations all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The imagery, shared on Monday by the open-source intelligence analyst who uses the name @detresfa on Twitter, shows infrastructure upgrades south of Xigatse airport that link the facility to a rail terminal. The imagery suggests the infrastructure will be part of a logistics hub for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Among the under-construction structures captured by the imagery are a surface-to-air missile site, a suspected military support building, a new railway terminal and new railway line, and a possible fuel dump. The imagery also shows what appears to be a newly developed underground facility.

Earlier, the imagery of this same suspected underground facility had captured what appeared to be two tunnel entrances.

There was no immediate response from Indian officials to the development.

Sim Tack, a Belgium-based security analyst for Force Analysis, said there was mounting evidence in the form of satellite imagery of China’s massive upgrade of logistics facilities and connectivity across the Tibet Autonomous Region. The satellite imagery also suggested infrastructure is being upgraded or built to support military operations all along the LAC, from Aksai Chin to Arunachal Pradesh, he said.

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“All of these logistical upgrades, including the construction of rail connectivity and utilities, appear to be aimed at quickly moving large numbers of forces within Tibet and from other parts of China to Tibet,” he said.

Referring to the new underground facility being built near the airport at Xigatse, the second-largest city in the Tibet Autonomous Region, he said it could be a specialised facility where missile systems can be stored.

The railway station at Xigatse is one of the largest in the region and plays a crucial role in the movement of troops and military hardware. China also has plans to extend the line from Xigatse to the border with Nepal.

“This new infrastructure is in line with China’s efforts to upgrade facilities all along the LAC. Earlier, there was evidence of the construction or upgrading of forward positions in Aksai Chin such as airbases, heliports and air defence sites. Now, there is evidence of the creation of logistical facilities,” Tack said.

“Things are moving very rapidly and it’s almost as if things are popping up out of the ground every time we review satellite imagery. Almost every day, new positions seem to be coming up as part of a very large infrastructure drive. For example, a lot of infrastructure is also being created at Golmud,” he said, referring to a city in Qinghai province that is also the third-largest city on the Tibetan plateau.

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Recent satellite imagery has also shown that China is setting up villages in hitherto uninhabited stretches along its disputed borders with India and Bhutan, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. Experts believe the move is aimed at buttressing China’s territorial claims in these areas.

Several villages have come up in the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China, and the move dovetailed with the upgrading and construction of military facilities such as heliports and missile bases along the LAC in the aftermath of the 2017 standoff at Doklam.

At least five new border villages have been built by China near Bum La, the border pass between Cona county in Tibet Autonomous Region and Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Similarly, a village has come up in Pangda area, which is claimed by Bhutan and located 10 kilometres from the site of the Doklam standoff.

Chinese state-run media had reported last year that 27 households with 124 people had moved from Yadong county to Pangda village last September.

A report authored last year by Sim Tack for Stratfor, a leading security and intelligence consultancy, had said that China began building at least 13 new military positions, including airbases and air defence units, near the LAC after the 2017 standoff at Doklam. Work on four heliports began after tensions erupted in Ladakh sector in April-May 2020.

The new positions included three airbases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports.

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