In a significant geopolitical development, satellite imagery has unveiled China’s construction of new border defence villages near the site of a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in Arunachal Pradesh one year ago. As reported by open sources, these villages are strategically positioned close to Yangtse, where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army engaged in a physical altercation in the Tawang region. China’s territorial claim over Arunachal Pradesh, as part of southern Tibet, adds complexity to the situation.
The clash at Yangtse, characterised by hand-to-hand combat rather than the use of firearms, reflects a longstanding understanding between the two nations. Notably, both sides have adhered to this unconventional method in their border encounters.
The latest development centres around the Nagdoh bowl in Tibet, approximately 2.2 miles from the border with India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Here, China has undertaken the construction of “Xiaokang” villages, a term directly linked to Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s former developmental goal for the country, signifying “moderately prosperous” communities.
Newsweek’s analysis of satellite imagery from Sinergise’s Sentinel Hub website, captured by the European Union’s Copernicus Earth observation program’s Sentinel-2 satellite, reveals the extensive growth of these villages in the border city of Nyingchi (Tibetan: Nyingtri). This expansion has been documented since late 2020, signalling a strategic move by China to consolidate its presence in the contested region.
The developments underscore the ongoing tensions and strategic manoeuvring in the border areas between China and India, further intensifying concerns over territorial disputes and the geopolitical dynamics in the region.
In a stark contrast to 2017, recent satellite imagery reveals a notable transformation in the disputed border region between China and India. The images, as reported, show the emergence of dozens of buildings with dark roofs alongside a field and a running track, a significant departure from the solitary red-roofed settlement observed four years earlier. These three dual-use settlements, characterised by a blend of civilian and military infrastructure, are reportedly occupied by local cattle herders, according to Chinese state media.
The strategic significance of this development becomes apparent in the aftermath of the skirmish in Yangtse, situated 6.2 miles west of the Nagdoh bowl where China has established three Xiaokang villages. Following the altercation in Twang district’s Yangtse, Indian officials accused a Chinese patrol of encroaching into Indian territory. The Indian Army currently holds a strategic advantage in Yangtse due to its occupation of the high ground in the region. However, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aims to alter the ground reality by establishing a permanent presence in the Xiaokang villages near the border, as outlined in the report.
The significance of Yangtse is underscored by its vantage point, offering a clear view of activities in the Nagdoh bowl. L. Nishikanta Singh, a retired lieutenant general of the Indian Army, highlighted Yangtse as the fulcrum of Chinese activities in the area opposite Tawang.
The term “Xiaokang villages” is identified as a “grey-zone” tactic by Indian experts—a quasi-military move deliberately staying below the threshold of open conflict. Concerns raised in New Delhi suggest that these new settlements could potentially serve as covert garrisons and launch points for offences into Indian territory. Analysts point to China’s multifaceted approach to strengthen its claims in the region, involving the construction of strategic Xiaokang villages, toponymic changes, and the enactment of new border laws that India interprets as providing legal cover for Chinese forces. Amrita Jash, an assistant professor at India’s Manipal Academy of Higher Education, detailed these evolving strategies in an October report for the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for the Advanced Study of India.