Expressing its strong opposition to a second bridge being built by China across the Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, India has said that it never accepted China’s illegal occupation of the territory where the structures are located. A spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said on May 20 that “both these bridges are in areas that have continued to be under the illegal occupation of China since the 1960s”.
The bridge being referred to is a second structure that China is building, right next to the bridge it constructed earlier this year, in an area that lies along India’s claim line.
“We have seen reports of a bridge being constructed by China on Pangong Lake alongside its earlier bridge. Both these bridges are in areas that have continued to be under the illegal occupation of China since the 1960s. We have never accepted such illegal occupation of our territory, nor have we accepted the unjustified Chinese claim or such construction activities,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.
He reiterated that the Government “keeps a constant watch on all developments that have a bearing on India’s security and takes all necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
India has “made it clear on several occasions that the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh are an integral part of India and we expect other countries to respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
The spokesperson also added that External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had conveyed to Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi during his visit to New Delhi in March about India’s expectations regarding the military face-off.
As per a PTI report, Bagchi also indicated that there was a lack of clarity on whether a second bridge is being built in the area or it is the expansion and widening of the first bridge. The news of the bridge comes as India and China have held 15 rounds of military talks to resolve their faceoff in Ladakh, which began in May 2020. India has been insisting on the restoration of status quo ante prior to the standoff.
Arindam Bagchi, Spokesperson, MEA
Damien Symon, a geospatial intelligence researcher, who keeps track of Chinese activities along the LAC, recently posted satellite imagery of the new construction. Symon in his tweet wrote that the new bridge was a “larger one” and was being developed parallel to the first one. He added it appeared that the aim of the bridge was to “support larger/heavier movement” over the lake.
Konchok Stanzin, who represents Chushul in the Ladakh Development Council, corroborated the satellite imagery and confirmed the construction of a second bridge. He tweeted that the presence of a second bridge was “a concern for the nation’s security”. A TV news channel report said the new bridge had been constructed in an area that is over 20 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Reports also state that the second bridge will have a width of 10 metres and will be 450 metres long when completed in July.
A news portal quoted a source as saying, “The first bridge is being used by the Chinese to station their cranes and bring over other construction equipment. The new bridge, right next to it, is bigger and wider than the one they finished construction of in April this year.”
Sources have also been quoted as saying that the two bridges will cut the distance between Chinese troop positions on the north bank to a key PLA base at Rutog on the eastern end of the lake, by around 150 km.
While the Ministry of Defence didn’t issue a statement on the matter, Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande, who had visited the forward areas in Ladakh recently, had said then that China intended to keep the boundary question alive while the Indian Army aimed to re-establish the “trust and tranquillity” between the two sides. “But it cannot be a one-way affair,” said the Army Chief.