China speeds up construction on Indian border as talks stall – satellite images

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India-China tensions: Expert on potential military clashes

The tension between the two neighbours is mounting again in the Himalayan region of Ladakh over a new bridge constructed by the Chinese on the banks of the Pangong Tso Lake in eastern Ladakh. Analysts say there is a possibility of continued skirmishes between the two nuclear states. An open-source intelligence analyst, Damien Symon, with the Twitter, handle @detresfa_, recently shared satellite imagery of the area that showed a bridge-like structure connecting the two banks of the Pangong Tso Lake.

Taking to Twitter, the analyst said: “Media reports of Pangong Tso allege a new bridge is under construction connecting the north and south bank of the lake, in turn enhancing road connectivity for China’s troops in the area. Geo-intelligence of the area identifies the location and progress of the alleged structure.”

Adding to the Tweet, the analyst adds an explanation as to why the construction is a contentious issue between Beijing and New Delhi.

He states: “In case you’re still wondering why the new bridge at Pangong Tso matters, here’s an explainer on its implications and potential advantages it holds for China’s troops in the area.”

He added: “Very likely a lesson learnt from India’s manoeuvres at Rezang La in 2020.”

China India border dispute

The tension could see further skirmishes between the two sides (Image: Getty)

Tweet

The analyst Tweets about the situation (Image: Twitter)

The head of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Sweden’s Uppsala University, Professor Ashok Swain, said this is a clear sign China has no plans to withdraw from the areas of India from which it took control in 2020.

Professor Swain emphasized that India lacks the military muscle to push China to agree to de-escalation.

He says China’s President Xi Jinping has gained the upper hand in escalating the border conflict, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political calculation forces him to downplay the Chinese aggression, and within this context, disengagement is the best India can hope to achieve.

This standoff in the frigid Himalayan region also comes amid the allegation Beijing is erecting settlements on the Indian side.

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Potential scenario surrounding the bridge

Potential scenario surrounding the bridge (Image: Twitter / @detresfa_)

Map of the area

Map of the area (Image: Twitter / @Detresfa_)

India criticised China for building a bridge in eastern Ladakh, which India’s Ministry of External Affairs, or MEA, asserted was being erected in territories “that have been under unlawful occupancy for around 60 years now by the Chinese.”

Furthermore, China has also started escalating the construction of a series of buildings on the border of Bhutan.

Beijing has reportedly accelerated settlement-building along its disputed border with the tiny landlocked country, with more than 200 structures, including two-storey buildings, under construction in six locations, according to satellite image analysis.

The images and analysis supplied to Reuters news agency by US data analytics firm HawkEye 360, which uses satellites to gather intelligence on ground-level activities, and is vetted by two other experts, provide a detailed look into China’s recent construction along its frontier with Bhutan.

Construction-related activity in some of the locations along Bhutan’s western border has been underway since early 2020, with China initially building tracks and clearing out areas, based on material provided by satellite imagery firms Capella Space and Planet Labs, said Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

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Bridge crossing

One of the bridges being constructed by China (Image: Bilal Hussain)

Reacting sharply to India’s allegation, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, in a media briefing, said, “I want to stress that China’s infrastructure construction on its territory entirely falls within its sovereignty and is aimed at safeguarding China’s territorial sovereignty and security, as well as peace and stability in the China-India border.”

The fundamental reason for the tension between the two countries, according to senior fellow and co-director China, East Asia at the Stimson Center, Yun Sun, is the dispute about the territory and both want to advance their positions and strengthen their claims.

Sun told VOA the Chinese also can present their own complaints about the build-ups by India in the disputed region.

The result is a classic infrastructure race, akin to an arms race.

China India border

The border is home to several Chinese construction projects (Image: Bilal Hussain)

Experts say the purpose of this new bridge is to ensure quicker military action if needed by reducing the distance to the other side by about 125 kilometres.

Earlier in 2020, China faced a setback when the Indian army took control of the Kailash Range on the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake.

In January 2021, tensions reached a high when troops from both sides clashed.

According to reports, Indian and Chinese troops came to physical blows along the high-altitude border in north Sikkim, a small Indian state, situated between India and Bhutan, which has been a flashpoint of the India-China conflict for decades.