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China Builds Bridge Across Ladakh’s Pangong Tso Lake

Published: 10th Jan, 2022

Context

China is reportedly constructing a bridge near Khurnak Fort in Eastern Ladakh connecting the North and South Banks of Pangong Tso.

Background

  • Eastern Ladakh has witnessed large-scale troop mobilization after the Galwan Valley incident which resulted in a long standoff between both the Indian and Chinese Army and as per consensus Chinese troops withdrew east of finger 8
  • The construction of such a bridge was expected ever since China started constructing a road near Moldo Garrison this year however its alignment was not clear till satellite images became public.

This brief aims to understand the importance of where this bridge is going to be located and what are going to be its implications for India? 

Analysis

The location

  • The location of the bridge is a point of concern. China constructed this bridge at the narrowest point on the lake. 
  • As per satellite images, the bridge lies east of Khurnak Fort which is considered borderline as per Indian Claims. 
  • The coordinates of the bridge are 33°45’1N, 79° 1’26E for its northern end and 33°44’51N 79° 1’31E for its southern end.

  • Though the bridge does not lie in the Indian Territory however it is located right next to the Indian Claim line which opens another pandora’s box. 
    • The new bridge is being constructed more than 20 km east of Finger 8 on the lake’s north bank.
    • India claims the Line of Actual Control to be at Finger 8, while China claims it to be at Finger 4.

Pangong Tso lake

  • Pangong Lake, situated at a height of almost 4,350m, is the world’s highest saltwater lake. 
  • Pangong Lake, one of the most famous lakes in Leh Ladakh, derives its name from the Tibetan word, “Pangong Tso”, which means “high grassland lake”.
  • One-third of the nearly 160 kilometres-long lake lies in India, other two-thirds in China.
  • It was one of the prominent flashpoints when border tensions between the two countries flared up in June 2020. 

How would it help China?

  • China has a major base in the Rutog area which is taking care of both the southern and northern banks of Pangong Tso lake. 
  • Reduction in distance: Earlier, they had to take a detour encircling the lake to reach the northern bank of Pangong Tso from Rutog. But with the construction of this bridge, they would be able to reduce the distance from Rutog to Khurnak by 120-130 Km or 3 days.
  • Easy troop movement: It would also facilitate easy troop movement between both the banks of the lake
  • Multiple routes: A fully constructed bridge means China will have multiple routes to add troops in the contentious area.

Why is it a concerning point?

  • Small step for a bigger goal: Recently, China also renamed 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh too. And, in light of such current events, the construction of a bridge should not be seen as an isolated case but a small part of a larger game plan. 
  • Multiple routes to counter: With the new construction, China aims to have multiple routes to counter any possible operations by the Indian forces in the southern banks in future.

How did India react?

  • The region where China is building a bridge on East Ladakh’s Pangong Tso lake has been under its “illegal occupation for around 60 years”, the Ministry of External Affairs. 
  • The bridge is being built on the Chinese side of the lake.
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