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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

MEA: Two bridges built by China in Pangong area occupied illegally

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,” MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |
Updated: May 21, 2022 7:16:57 am
Chinese troops dismantling their bunkers at Pangong Tso region, in Ladakh along the India-China border. (File Photo: Indian Army/AP)

CONFIRMING REPORTS of a second bridge being built by China across the Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Friday that “both these bridges are in areas that have continued to be under the illegal occupation of China since the 1960s”. The MEA, in a statement, said India has not accepted China’s “unjustified claim” or “such construction activities”.

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. It is more than 20 km east of the point which India says marks the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“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 on Friday.

On Thursday, Bagchi had referred to it as a “so-called bridge”. Responding to questions, he had referred to media reports “on the so-called bridge or I don’t know if it’s another bridge — somebody said it’s a second bridge, or if it’s an expansion or widening of the current bridge.” “From a military perspective, I would not be in a position to comment. That I think the Ministry of Defence would be in better position to tell and also the implications of that. But as I said, we monitor such developments and if there’s any update on this, we will share with you,” he had said.

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In his statement on Friday, 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.

In order to “ensure that the nation’s security interests are fully protected, the government has stepped up development of border infrastructure especially since 2014, including construction of roads, bridges, etc”, he said, adding that it remains committed to “the objective of creating infrastructure along the border areas to not only meet India’s strategic and security requirements but also facilitate the economic development of these areas.”

According to senior defence establishment officials, the second bridge is a wider structure that China is building right next to the bridge it had constructed earlier this year. Work on the second bridge has been on for a few months, said sources.

A senior defence establishment officer said it was earlier thought that the second bridge was a temporary structure built for facilitating work on the first bridge. He said they thought the “first one was the permanent bridge, and the second one was a temporary structure for facilitation.” But, he said, “it is the other way round now”. “This is the permanent bridge” and the first one seems to have been built to help in building this, he said.

The officer said he was not sure about the dimensions of the second bridge. But the first bridge that was visible in satellite images was about 400 metres long and 8 metres wide; it was believed to be built for movement of security forces between the north and south banks of Pangong Tso. These were two of the most contentious friction points during the over two-year-long ongoing standoff in eastern Ladakh. In February 2021, both sides pulled back troops from some of these friction points.

With the second bridge being built right next to the first structure, “we can safely assume it is meant for the forces to move between the north and south banks of the lake,” the officer said. He said the bridge would likely allow for movement of all types of military vehicles, including tanks. “Why else will they make it,” he said, adding that it will facilitate early response and deployment of mechanised forces.

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Asked when the construction work had started, the officer said though the area was being monitored, they “didn’t keep the timelines” for the second bridge as it was assumed to be a temporary structure. However, he said, work has been going on for a few months now.

The bridge is located around 20 km east of Finger 8 on the north bank of the lake, where India says is the point that marks the LAC. But by road, it would be over 35 km from Finger 8. The area has been under Chinese control since 1958, although it is just west of India’s claim line, which, according to India, is its international boundary.

It is just east of a ruin named Khurnak Fort, where China has major frontier defence bases. The region is called Rutong County by China. China has a frontier defence company at the Khurnak Fort, and a water squadron further east at Banmozhang.

The bridge is near the halfway mark of the boomerang-shaped, 135- km-long Pangong Tso. India has about 45 km of the lake under its control.

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