What China aims to achieve by building a bigger bridge on Pangong Tso?
- China is building a second bridge on Pangong Tso Lake, near friction points in the border standoff that began in May 2020.
- The second bridge, which is still under construction, is a permanent structure.
- A previous bridge seemed to have been built to facilitate work on the new one.
Where are these bridges located?
- The site of the bridge is around 20 km east of Finger 8 on the lake’s north bank – which is where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) passes.
- However, the actual distance by road is more than 35 km between the bridge site and Finger 8.
- The construction site is just east of an old ruin called Khurnak Fort, where China has major frontier defence bases.
- China calls it Rutong Country.
- It has a frontier defence company at Khurnak Fort, and further east, a water squadron deployed at Banmozhang.
- Although it is being built in territory that is under China’s control since 1958, the exact point is west of India’s claim line.
- MEA stated that it considers the area as illegally occupied by China.
- Pangong Tso is a 135-km long landlocked lake.
- India has around 45 km of Pangong Tso under its control, while China has more than two-thirds.
- The site of the new bridge is near the halfway mark of the boomerang-shaped lake.
How will these constructions help China?
- Objective: faster movement of troops, including mechanised forces, heavy weapons, and military vehicles.
- Bridges are at one of narrowest points on the lake, close to the LAC.
- The constructions are a direct outcome of the ongoing standoff that began in May 2020.
- It catalysed the construction of infrastructure on both sides across the entire 3,488-km long LAC.
Why this location, though?
- An operation by Indian Army in August 2020, allowed India to gain some leverage in negotiations to resolve the standoff.
- Indian troops outmanoeuvred PLA to occupy heights of Kailash Range in the Chushul sub-sector on the south bank of Pangong Tso.
- It allowed India to dominate strategically significant Spanggur Gap, which could be used to launch an offensive as China had done in 1962.
- India got a direct view of China’s Moldo Garrison. This was a cause of immense concern for the Chinese.
- After this operation, the Indian Army readjusted on the lake’s north bank to position themselves above Chinese positions.
- During this jostling, warning shots were fired for the first time by both sides, a first in over four decades.
- At certain areas on south bank, troops and tanks were positioned creating a dangerous eyeball-to-eyeball standoff.
- Two sides finally agreed to pull back troops from these areas in February last year.
- China is building these bridges close to the theatre of action.
- The new bridge will allow Chinese troops to slash travel time from around 12 hours to around four hours.
- India: site of the bridge is under illegal occupation of China, and it is monitoring all Chinese activity closely.
- India is upgrading and developing infrastructure along the northern border.
- In 2021, over 100 projects were completed by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in the border areas, most of which were close to the China border.
- India is improving surveillance along the LAC, apart from building new airstrips and landing areas.
Current situation in the standoff
- While several friction points have been resolved, discussions are on regarding three remaining areas.
- India and China pulled their troops back from Patrolling Point (PP) 14 in Galwan Valley in June 2020, after the fatal clashes.
- Then they disengaged from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso in February 2021, and from PP17A near Gogra Post in August. But negotiations have been stuck since then.
- The Corps Commanders from both sides have met 15 times since the standoff began, and the last meeting was in March.
Prelims take away
- Pangong Tso Lake
- Line of Actual Control
- Border Roads Organisation (BRO)