LEH, India (Reuters) – Two Indian officials said Chinese troops laid a network of fiber-optic cables at a western Himalayan hotspot with India, suggesting they dug into the long haul despite senior talks that had intended to solve a standoff there.
Such cables, which will provide front troops with secure lines of communication to rear bases, have recently been seen south of Pangong Tso Lake in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, a senior official said.
Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops backed by tanks and planes are locked in a troubled stalemate along a 70 km long front south of the lake.
The two sides have accused each other of escalating the most serious confrontation at the border between the nuclear weapons neighbors for decades.
A third Indian official said on Monday that there had been no significant withdrawals or reinforcements on either side since the foreign ministers of the two countries met last week.
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry questioned the report from the cable network.
“As far as I know, the relevant report is not true,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin when asked on Tuesday.
China and India would remain in communication through diplomatic and military channels, ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing.
Chinese defense officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
In June, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand combat with Chinese troops in the area. Both sides had agreed to withdraw after this clash, but the Indian Army has accused Chinese forces of violating this agreement.
Above Leh, Ladakh’s capital, Indian fighter jets flew all morning Monday, their engines blossoming and echoing across the valley surrounded by brown, barren mountains.
“Our main concern is that they have laid fiber optic cables for high-speed communications,” said the first official, referring to the southern shore of the lake, where Indian and Chinese troops are only a few hundred meters apart at some points.
“They have been laying optical fiber cables on the south shore at breakneck speed,” he said.
Indian intelligence agencies noticed similar cables north of Pangong Tso Lake about a month ago, the other official said.
The first Indian official said authorities were alerted to the activity as satellite images showed unusual lines in the sand in high deserts south of Pangong Tso.
The lines were judged by Indian experts – and confirmed by foreign intelligence agencies – to be communications cables laid in trenches, he said, including near the Spanggur gorge, among hilltops where soldiers fired into the air for the first time in decades.
Indian officials say that building border infrastructure on their part has probably also played a role in the confrontation.
The Chinese have complained about India building roads and air strips in the area, and Beijing says this triggered the tension.
A former Indian military intelligence official who refused to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case said that fiber optic cables offered communication security as well as the ability to send data such as images and documents.
“If you talk on the radio, it can get caught. Communication on optical fiber cables is secure, ”he said.
The Indian military is still dependent on radio communications, the first official said, though he said it was encrypted.
Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Edited by Hugh Lawson