Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

China’s bridge over Pangong Tso

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pangong Tso

Mains level : LAC ambiguities

China is building a bridge across the Pangong Tso area connecting the North and South Banks which will significantly reduce the time for moving troops and equipment between the two sides.

About Pangong Tso

  • Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m.
  • It is 134 km long and extends from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China.
  • Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies within the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
  • The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 sq.km.
  • During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water.
  • It is not a part of the Indus river basin area and is geographically a separate landlocked river basin.
  • Earlier, Pangong Tso had an outlet to Shyok River, a tributary of Indus River, but it was closed off due to natural damming.

Tactical significance of the lake

  • It lies in the path of the Chushul approach, one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive into Indian Territory.
  • During the 1962 war, this was where China launched its main offensive — the Indian Army fought heroically at Rezang La under Maj. Shaitan Singh.
  • Not far away, to the north of the lake, is the Army’s Dhan Singh Thapa post, named after Major Dhan Singh Thapa who was awarded the country’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra.
  • Major Thapa and his platoon were manning the Sirijap-1 outpost which was essential for the defense of the Chushul airfield.

Connectivity in the region

  • Over the years, the Chinese have built motorable roads along their banks of the Pangong Tso. This points to the importance accorded by the Chinese to the area.
  • Even during peacetime, the difference in perception over where the LAC lies on the northern bank of the lake makes this contested terrain.
  • In 1999, when the Army unit from the area was moved to Kargil for Operation Vijay, China took the opportunity to build 5 km of a road inside the Indian Territory along the lake’s bank.
  • From one of these roads, Chinese positions physically overlook Indian positions on the northern tip of the Pangong Tso Lake.

What is the importance of the bridge over Pangong Tso?

  • The bridge over Pangong Tso is located around 25 kms ahead of the LAC in Chinese territory and will significantly reduce the time for movement of Chinese army.
  • The Indian Army gained tactical advantage over the PLA on the south bank in end August 2020 by occupying several peaks lying vacant since 1962 gaining a dominating view.
  • This has prompted China to build deep alternate roads behind the friction points away from the line of sight.

How is India responding to developments on the ground?

  • The bridge is well within Chinese territory.
  • The implications of this new bridge will have to be factored in the Indian Army’s operational planning for the future.
  • On its part, over the last few years India has been focusing on infrastructure development in forward areas and improving connectivity to the forward areas.
  • Large-scale construction of roads, bridges and tunnels is underway all along the LAC.

 

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