China rules restive Tibet with an iron hand, and tightly restricts visits by foreign media, making independent assessments of the military presence in the region hard. But all signs indicate much more sophisticated infrastructure on the Chinese side of the border.
During the last government-organized visit to Tibet, in 2010, a Reuters journalist saw half a dozen Su-27 fighters, some of the most advanced and lethal aircraft China owns, operating from Lhasa’s Gonggar airport. China has been building or extending airports across vast and remote Tibet, all of which have a dual military-civilian use.
Meanwhile, residents on the Indian side of the border report the Chinese have built smooth, hard-topped roads stretching to Tibet’s capital of Lhasa. Chinese border posts, like India’s today, were once only reachable by horse or mule. Now they are connected by asphalt.
Beyond the frontier, the Chinese improvements include laying asphalt on a historic highway across the region of Aksai Chin, which is claimed by India. The construction of the Xinjiang-Tibet national highway 50 years ago shocked India and contributed to the 1962 war.
China’s rails are improving, too: Beijing opened a train line from Tibet to the region in 2006, and an extension is planned into a prefecture bordering Arunachal.
In a 2010 cable released by Wikileaks, a U.S. diplomat concluded that infrastructure development in Lhoka prefecture, which according to China includes Tawang, was in part to prepare a “rear base” should a border clash arise.
For years, India deliberately neglected infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh, partly so it could act as a natural buffer against any Chinese invasion. That policy was dropped when the extent of development on China’s side became clear.
In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made his first trip to Arunachal and promised $4 billion to build a 1,700-kilometer (1,055-mile) highway joining the valleys of the state as well as a train line connecting to New Delhi. These would also make troop movements easier.