By Sudeep Sonawane
China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army troopers regularly crossed into Indian territory while patrolling routes on the border, a research analysis says.
Author of the study, published by Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Nathan Ruser backs this claim with many satellite images taken on June 16 and earlier.
The Australian independent think tank’s report gives clarity on the real situation in the conflict areas.
Ruser’s analysis disproves the exaggerated media claims that thousands of Chinese soldiers have crossed the notional border and encamped inside Ladakh.
Currently Indian and Chinese troopers on either side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) starting from Galwan River, Hot Springs in the middle, and Pangong Tso are on the brink of large scale hostilities.
Ruser’s analysis examines these three areas and backs the positions and camps of both armies with satellite images which show the PLA troopers regularly crossing and entering these three places.
Galwan River Valley is currently the hotspot where 20 soldiers died in a freestyle combat earlier this week, according to media reports.
The ASPI report says, “Until May this year, the PLA did not hold positions with the valley. India set up positions closer to the LAC and constructed a road to supply for these positions. This prompted the PLA to set up a number of positions and move up to 1,000 soldiers into the valley. China now claims the entire Galwan River Valley.”
The report says PLA’s consolidation in the valley gives them a “vantage point to observe Indian Army’s supply movement to its northernmost base – the world’s highest airfield in Daulat Beg Oldi.
“PLA forces can monitor all traffic on the recently completed Darbu-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road. It is a strategic route that abuts the LAC through much of Ladakh. India took almost 20 years to build this road. India has also built military bases along this road.”
China calls the shots in Hot Springs, the second conflict area. Since 2019 China has developed forward positions near Gogra, around 10 kms northwest of Hot Springs outposts.
In April 2019 a new road was built to the Chinese hamlet of Wenquan, around seven kilometres north of the LAC. The nearest permanent Chinese position is within 1.8kms of the LAC.
Satellite images show there’s a dirt track that crosses one kilometre into Indian territory. A second looped dirt track crosses nearly 500 meters into territory controlled by India. The circular track suggests it could be a regular patrol route. These tracks suggest PLA troops regularly make incursions into Indian territory, the report says.
Pangong Tso is the third hotspot of dispute in Ladakh. It’s an Alpine lake over 100 kms long and Indo-China border bisects it. New Delhi and Beijing disagree on the precise location of the border. Their difference stretches up to 30 kms.
The lake has a number of peninsulas known as fingers. China claims area up to finger 2 while India claims up to finger 8. India has permanent positions in the disputed area between fingers 3 and 4 for more than 10 years. It expanded its presence in the area in 2015-16.
China kept its permanently stationed troops outside the disputed territory until this May. In the last one month Chinese forces have become majority here. China has built positions between fingers 4 and 5, including around 500 structures, fortified trenches a new boatshed over 20 kms farther than previous position. China has built 53 different forward positions, including 19 exactly on the ridgeline that separates Indian and Chinese patrols.
These areas around the LAC are a potential flashpoint. Coupled with the political tensions between India and China, the pandemic crises, China’s internal politics that has added pressure on Xi Xingpin’s command and the uprising for democracy in Hong Kong, it is a volatile situation.
Asia observers are worried it could spiral out of control between two nuclear-armed states. No wonder Russia and entered to mediate and resolve the standoff.
The conflict and LAC skirmishes will continue unless the military leadership and the foreign ministries of both countries discuss and resolve the dispute soon.