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Chinese Road Construction Venture in Kashmir's Shaksgam Valley in 'Full Swing'; Army Denies it

While highest level diplomacy is going on between India and China, the Indian neighbour has been steadily carrying out construction work not just in Doka La, the site of dispute between the two countries that led to the 73 day-long standoff last year, but in Shaksgam valley in PoK as well.

Sources told News18 that construction in a long “all-weather road” is in full swing in Shaksgam, which lies north of Siachen, which is not just the world’s highest battlefield, but an extremely vital strategic location for the Indian forces.

According to sources, the Chinese have already finished around 75 km of the all-weather road, which is believed to have a width of around 10 mts, and work is on full swing at the site.

“The new fair-weather road is being constructed on the eastern bank of Shaksgam river,” a source told News18, adding that “construction units comprising temporary shelters, vehicles and equipment for carrying out the construction activity” had been seen in the area.

The source also added that “Presence of more construction units” within “10-15 km” of one end of the road suggested that “further road extension is likely during the summer period”. The said construction has reportedly been happening after the Doka la crisis.

Shaksgam valley is located in a very treacherous terrain where winters are said to be as cold as they are in the Arctic. Bound by K2 and Gasherbrum peaks to the South and Aghil Mountains to the north, the Sakshgam Valley is populated by several 7,000-metre plus peaks and high mountain passes.

When the army chief Gen Bipin Rawat was asked to respond to news items, published earlier this year about the Chinese construction activity in Shaksgam valley, he had said, “As far as the Shaskgam Valley is concerned, it is a 5,400 sq km in the northernmost portion of Siachen. It is a very narrow valley, it’s a gorge. There is no construction activity there. The Chinese road there does not pass through the Shaskgam Valley,” Rawat added.

A news item published in The Print in January this year had claimed that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had already constructed 36 km stretch of this road. "Satellite images show that this new road is linked to two Chinese military posts outside Shaksgam Valley. One of the posts is thought to be the headquarters of the PLA unit operating in the area," the item published in the online portal had claimed.

Shaksgam Valley is 5400-km stretch which borders Xinjiang Province to the north and the Northern Areas of PoK to the south and west. It was ceded by the Pakistanis to China in a border dispute agreement in 1963. However, India does not recognise this transfer of land and considers the valley to be a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Chinese construction activity has been going on full-swing despite the highest level engagement between India and China. The Indian Prime Minister and Chinese President met for an informal summit in Wuhan late April and again on the sidelines of SCO summit in June, the Chinese external affairs minister is expected to reach New Delhi later this year, and the Chinese President has agreed to visit India in 2019.

Notably, the Indian External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, told Parliament on Wednesday that the issue of Doka la “was solved with utmost care and hence there has been no change in the status quo at Doka la.”

Recently, a US Congress woman, Ann Wagner, had claimed that “China has quietly resumed its activities in Doklam and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it,” while comparing Chinese activity in Doklam to its activity in South China sea.

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