China's Cutting-Edge Stealth Jets Now Patrol Near Sikkim: A New Flashpoint In Border Tensions?

The border between India and China is not clearly demarcated throughout, and there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC) along certain stretches.
China's Cutting-Edge Stealth Jets Patrol Near Sikkim: A New Flashpoint In Border Tensions?
China's Cutting-Edge Stealth Jets Patrol Near Sikkim: A New Flashpoint In Border Tensions?

Recently, new satellite images have come to light which reveals the deployment of six advanced J-20 stealth fighter jets by China, situated less than 150 kilometers from the Sikkim boundary with India.

The images, authorized by All Source Analysis, depict the presence of the J-20s at a dual-use military and civilian airport serving Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest city. Notably, this airport stands at an altitude of 12,408 feet, ranking among the world's highest.

Accompanying the J-20s is a KJ-500 Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has acknowledged the presence of the J-20s but refrains from commenting further at this juncture. This deployment outside of their usual operational zones, particularly in proximity to the Indian border, signifies a strategic move by China, as highlighted by the VP for Technology and Analysis at All Source Analysis.

India responds to this development with its fleet of 36 Rafale fighters, eight of which are currently engaged in advanced air combat exercises with the United States Air Force in Alaska. Notably, Shigatse, where the Chinese J-20s are sighted, lies less than 290 kilometers from Hasimara in West Bengal, where India bases its second squadron of 16 Rafales.

Although this is not the first instance of J-20 deployment in Tibet, it marks the largest deployment observed through commercially available satellite imagery. The Chengdu J-20, dubbed the Mighty Dragon, is a twin-engine stealth fighter introduced into service in 2017. Reports suggest China may have already deployed around 250 of these stealth fighters, renowned for their radar evasiveness.

China's continuous modernization of the J-20, equipped with advanced sensors and air-to-air missiles like the PL-15, underscores its commitment to air superiority. China's bolstering of air power in Tibet and adjacent regions over the past five years includes the construction and upgrading of air bases, as well as temporary deployments of aircraft like the J-20 and H-6 nuclear-capable bombers.

India's response involves upgrading its own airbases with hardened shelters and expanding its surface-to-air missile defenses, including the deployment of the S-400 system in eastern India. The S-400's purported ability to track stealth platforms aims to deter potential offensive actions by Chinese fighters along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The India-China border dispute refers to the long-standing and complex territorial disputes along their shared border of 3,488 kilometers. The main areas of dispute are Aksai Chin, located in the western sector, and Arunachal Pradesh, in the eastern sector. Aksai Chin is administered by China as part of its Xinjiang region, while India considers it part of its Union Territory of Ladakh. The region holds strategic significance due to its proximity to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its potential as a military route. 

The border between India and China is not clearly demarcated throughout, and there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC) along certain stretches. The LAC came into existence after the 1962 Indo-China war. The India-China border is divided into three sectors: the Western Sector (Ladakh), the Middle Sector (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), and the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim).

The deployment of these Chinese aircrafts near the Indian border is unsettling, particularly for states like Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This strategic move, placing these high-tech jets at Shigatse's high-altitude airbase, less than 150 kilometers from Sikkim, signals China's intent to bolster its military presence near the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

It is the latest in the escalating border tensions between the two countries. Last year, China, claimed that Arunachal Pradesh is part of southern Tibet, referring to the territory as Zangnan. It had standardised the names of about 30 places, "in accordance with the relevant regulations on place name management of the State Council".

India on the other hand rejected those claims, stating Arunachal Pradesh has always been a part of India.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the “Sela Tunnel” — the world’s longest bi-lane tunnel built at an altitude above 13,000 feet, which is located in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, triggering sharp responses from Chinese officials.

While the target potentially might be Taiwan, the safety of Indian citizens near Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the event of an invasion, akin to Russia's actions in Ukraine, cannot be ignored. Their safety can depend on various factors, including geopolitical dynamics, military preparedness, and diplomatic efforts.

Geopolitically, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are strategically significant regions for India, nestled along its northeastern border. India has historically maintained a strong military presence in these areas to safeguard its territorial integrity. Additionally, India has robust defense alliances and partnerships with countries like the United States, which could provide support in the event of any aggression.

Evidently, diplomatic efforts are essential in averting conflicts and resolving disputes peacefully. India actively tried engage in dialogue and diplomacy with neighboring countries, including China, to address border issues and maintain regional stability. International support and diplomatic pressure can play a significant role in deterring any aggressive actions against India's territorial integrity.

While the situation in Ukraine serves as a reminder of the importance of vigilance and preparedness, India's unique geopolitical position, strong defense capabilities, and diplomatic engagements contribute to the safety and security of its citizens near Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

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