LEH, India (Reuters) – Two Indian officials say Chinese troops are laying a network of fiber optic cables at a western Himalayan point with India, suggesting they are digging long distances, despite high-level talks aimed at resolving opposition there.
Such cables, which would provide front troops with secure lines of communication to bases at the rear, were recently spotted south of Lake Pangong Tso in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, a senior government official said.
Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops, backed by tanks and planes, are locked in a turbulent stalemate on a 70km-long front south of the lake.
The two sides blamed each other for escalating the most serious confrontation on the border between nuclear-armed neighbors in decades.
A third Indian official said Monday that there had been no significant withdrawals or reinforcements from the two sides since the two countries̵
“It’s tense as before,” he said.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman questioned the cable network report.
“As far as I know, the relevant report is not true,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said when asked Tuesday.
China and India will remain in communication through diplomatic and military channels, ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a 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 the clash, but the Indian military has accused Chinese forces of violating the agreement.
Over Lech, the capital of Ladakh, Indian fighters flew all Monday morning, their engines booming and echoing through the valley surrounded by brown, barren mountains.
“Our biggest concern is that they have laid optical 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 away at some points.
“They are laying fiber optics on the south coast at breakneck speed,” he said.
Indian intelligence agencies spotted similar cables north of Pangong Tso Lake about a month ago, a second government official said.
The first Indian official said authorities had been alerted to the operation when satellite images showed unusual lines in the sand of the high deserts south of Pangong Tso.
The lines were judged by Indian experts – and confirmed by foreign intelligence agencies – as communication cables laid in trenches, he said, including near the Spanggur precipice, among the hilltops where soldiers fired into the air recently for the first time in decades.
The Indian authorities say that the accumulation of border infrastructure on their part also probably played a role in the confrontation.
The Chinese have complained that India is building roads and air strips in the area, and Beijing says it has caused tensions.
A former Indian military intelligence official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said fiber optic cables offer communication security as well as the ability to send data such as photos and documents.
“If you talk on the radio, they can catch you. “Fiber optic communication is secure,” he said.
The Indian military is still dependent on radio communications, the first official said, although he said it was encrypted.
Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Additional reports by Gabriel Crosley and Yu Lun Tian; Edited by Hugh Lawson