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China wants to build more border rail through Aksai Chin; India is keeping an eye out.

India and China are in a border standoff, with over a lakh troops stationed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. Beijing has decided to speed up its railway network to 4,000 km by 2025, cutting through the disputed Aksai Chin area close to the border.

Since the late 1950s, Aksai Chin has been a source of conflict between India and China. Both countries say it is theirs, and it was at the centre of the India-China war in 1962.

New Delhi keeps a close eye on how China is building up its infrastructure along the border. It sees this as a possible force multiplier for the Chinese military, which can easily move its forces from east to west. But Delhi also thinks that after 33 months of fighting at the border, Beijing’s announcement must be seen as a psy-op.

The Tibet Autonomous Region Development and Reform Commission showed how China wants to improve its railway network, which is currently 1,359 km long.

Plans from Chinese state media say that the Shigatse-Pakhuktso section of the planned Xinjiang-Tibet Railway, which goes through Aksai Chin, will be built by 2025. This is important for India. “By 2025, major progress will be made on the Ya’an-Nyingchi section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, the Shigatse-Pakhuktso section of the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway, and the Bomi-Ra’uk section of the Yunnan-Tibet Railway,” said the report.

Chinese state media said that the plan is to connect 55 counties and districts by the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) and beyond. It said that another 1,000 km of growth will be added to this by 2035.

China has been improving its logistics on its side of the border over time. With this latest change, it will be much easier to bring people and things from the mainland.

The Qinghai-Tibet railway line opened in July 2006, the Lhasa-Shigatse line in 2014, and the Lhasa-Nyingchi line in June 2021, bringing the total length of the current railway network to 1,359 km. Trains can go as fast as 160 kmph on the 435-km line between Lhasa and Nyingchi.

In response, India has also moved quickly to build strategic railway lines near the border with China. India will have four proposed rail lines in the border area, three in the Northeast and one in the North. The total length of the lines is about 1,352 km.

For the 498-km Bhanupli-Bilaspur-Manali-Leh line in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Ladakh, the process of buying land has begun. The project will be opened in stages. It is expected to cost Rs 83,360 crore. When it is finished, this strategic line will be higher than China’s Qinghai-Tibet line, which is now the highest railway line in the world.

The Missamari-Tenga-Tawang (378 km, Rs 54,473 crore), Pasighat-Tezu-Rupai (227 km, Rs 9,222 crore), and North Lakhimpur-Bame-Silapathar railway lines all connect to the border in Arunachal Pradesh (249 km at Rs 23,339 crore). These lines’ detailed project reports (DPR) are ready.

Officials say that all of these are “strategic lines” that are being built to meet the needs of the Armed Forces with money from the Ministry of Defense. A Railways spokesperson said, “Defence and Railways will talk about the reports and decide what to do next about these lines.”

Plans for these broad-gauge lines have been around for at least 10 years. They are one of 14 strategic lines that the defence establishment has identified.

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