Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to forward areas at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction last Saturday had a key significance—India is preparing to fight off China’s salami slicing.
Sitharaman’s visit highlighted that India is focusing on border areas where lack of development encourages China to press in. She is pushing for infrastructure development along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC), India’s border with China.
Salami slicing means small, stealth military operations against neighbouring countries which accumulate over time in a large territorial gain. Such military operations are too small to lead to a war but significant enough to stump the neighbour who is not sure how and how much it should respond. A series of such actions not only accumulate territory for China but also become too frequent to attract international diplomatic attention.
China’s development of border areas helps it keep pushing into Indian territory where infrastructure is poor which becomes a handicap for Indian forces. China’s salami slicing works due to lack of even basic roads in large parts of border areas in India.
China has assiduously built an extensive network of railway lines, highways, metal-top roads, air bases, radars, logistics hubs and other infrastructure in the entire Tibet Autonomous Region to sustain over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers), including five to six “rapid reaction forces” there.
India has floundered in playing catch-up. Only 27 “strategic all-weather roads” (963-km) of the 73 (totalling (4,643-km) identified for construction along the LAC over 15 years ago, for instance, have been completed till now. Moreover, the long-proposed construction of 14 “strategic railway lines” for the western and eastern fronts has not even kicked off till now.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat had recently pointed out China’s strategy of gradually taking over Indian territory: “As far as the northern adversary (China) is concerned, the flexing of muscles has started… Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of threshold… is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations that could develop into conflicts.”
Adequate infrastructure in border areas will deter China from intruding into India and laying claims over disputed territories.