China is building a bridge across Pangong Lake in Eastern Ladakh, triggering concerns in New Delhi about Beijing once again choosing not to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that divides the two countries.
Satellite images show the bridge is more than 400 metres long already and is likely to be completed in a few months despite inclement weather. What is more worrying for India is that China has taken up several road works in the nearby mountains which will all eventually connect to the bridge.
On completion, the bridge will give India’s eastern neighbour a strong advantage in an area which has been on the boil for most of 2020 till February last year when the two countries finally decided to withdraw battle-ready troops.
China, however, seems to have learnt from the experience of 2020 and undertook the construction work over Pangong Lake to gain a definitive edge in the area in case of future confrontations. In September 2020, China had a disadvantage because Indian troops quickly moved to the Kailash heights thus helping them monitor Chinese movements. The new bridge will help Chinese forces to quickly mobilise soldiers on either bank of the Lake. Their troops’ travel from the North Bank to Rutog – a prominent Chinese military station – will be cut by almost 150 km. Next, the Chinese would connect the bridge to Rutog – a prominent Chinese military station in the area.
China may claim it is building the bridge in an area which has been under their occupation since 1958, but India disagrees. “It is located right where India claims the Line of Actual Control to be. This location is likely in part chosen for its practicality as this is indeed the narrowest point of the lake, but in a political context it also signifies the encroachment of Chinese infrastructure development right up to India’s interpretation of the LAC,” said Sim Tack, Chief Military Analyst at Force Analysis.
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The External Affairs Ministry argues that the area where the bridge is coming up has been under illegal occupation of China for about 60 years now.
Damien Symon, a GEOINT researcher at The Intel Lab, tweeted: ”A fresh track is observed fusing the bridge to a road network near the Khurnak Fort (North Bank of Pangong), which further links it to a well-formed motorable network through the region northwards.”
On its part, India too has increased the budget for completing border infrastructure. “New Delhi has built more roads and bridges in the region than ever before,” the foreign ministry stated.
The Indian and Chinese commanders met at Chushul-Moldo in Eastern Ladakh for the 14th round of military discussions last week. A total of 14 rounds of talks have been held so far since the tensions between the two nations in 2020. The talks failed once again, but the two sides agreed to keep talking. India has been insisting on resolving the differences over Hot Springs friction point, which became evident during the Ladakh aggression in 2020.