China builds bridge over disputed Himalayan border with India

An Indian fighter jet flies over a mountain range in Ladakh at the height of a military clash with China in June 2020 in which 20 Indian soldiers died.

Tausef Mustafa | AFP | Getty Images

China is building a bridge across a lake in Ladakh, on the Himalayan-Indian border, a move condemned by the Indian government, which called it an “illegal construction”.

It is the second and stronger of the two Chinese bridges crossing the Pangong Tso Lake.

Speaking to CNBC, a retired Indian Army general, who was stationed in Ladakh, said the new bridge is capable of supporting tanks and armored personnel carriers and would help China speed up the deployment between the banks of the river.

“What the bridge adds to Chinese capabilities is the ability to quickly move forces between the northern and southern shores of Pangong Tso Lake, which they previously lacked,” said General Rohit Gupta, who served in the Northern Command Fire and Fury Corps. of the Indian Army.

Ladakh is the site of a permanent confrontation between the two nations.

It was a flashpoint between India and China in mid-2020, when fierce clashes killed 20 Indian soldiers and five Chinese soldiers, according to their respective governments. Other reports put the Chinese death toll higher, at between 38 and 45 Chinese soldiers.

Pangong Tso Lake is in disputed territory claimed by both countries. China has controlled two-thirds of the lake since the 1960s and India owns the remaining third.

“We have seen reports of a bridge being built by China over Pangong Lake next to its old bridge. Both of these bridges are in areas that have continued to be under China’s illegal occupation since the 1960s,” said Indian External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi. reporters last week.

“We have never accepted such illegal occupation of our territory, unjustified Chinese claim or such construction activities,” he said.

According to General Gupta, the new bridge – which shortens the distance by 130 kilometers between the southern and northern shores of the lake – is part of an attempt to negate an Indian tactical advantage in the area.

Interdiction of such known terrain features is possible, especially with precision munitions delivered from a variety of resources.

Rohit Gupta

Retired Brigadier General Staff, Indian Army

Gen Gupta said India has also built a lot of infrastructure to help in “better tactical and operational deployment” of forces. While China’s new bridge was a concern, it could be neutralized, he added.

“Interdiction of such known land entities is possible, especially with precision munitions delivered from various resources,” he said, adding that the Indian side had a clear view of the bridge from the positions. which he occupied.

The bridge dispute likely would have been discussed as part of the overall security discussions at the Quad meeting, Deep Pal, a visiting fellow with the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNBC on Monday ahead of the Quadrilateral Dialogue on the security on Tuesday.

A meeting of the leaders of the quadrilateral made up of Australia, India, Japan and the United States was held in Tokyo on Tuesday. The group’s goal is to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

“But there is no immediate response that the Quad could provide,” added Pal, stressing that the grouping was not an “Asian NATO”.

Of the four nations that make up the Quad, India is the only one that shares a border with China. The 3,488 km unmarked border between India and China is the longest disputed border in the world.

Former Indian Commerce Secretary Ajay Dua told CNBC on Tuesday that the Quad nations should work together militarily, even if it risks angering China.

“I would like to see the Quad nations come together to provide greater military security,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia,” adding that it was the “need of the hour.”

China and India still have tens of thousands of troops massed on the border despite 15 rounds of talks to defuse military tensions after a violent confrontation in 2020.

In June of that year, the two nuclear-armed Asian giants fought a brutal and bloody skirmish without weapons, in hand-to-hand combat with metal rods, batons with nail filings and other improvised weapons.

Under previous treaties, the two countries agreed not to carry or use firearms to prevent escalation.

Highlighting China’s belligerence on its border with India and with its South China Sea neighbors, Dua noted that the Quad was formed in 2007 as a security dialogue – not a trade deal .

“I would like to see [Quad countries provide] military security regardless of the Chinese reaction,” he said, adding that China already had carried out a disinformation campaign, calling the Quad an anti-Chinese group.

“No country in the region can handle China alone. The United States can,” he said.

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