Chinese building helipad in Pangong Tso, massing troops on southern bank of lake
As tensions run high between India and China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, and no talks scheduled so far between military commanders, the Chinese army has started consolidating its positions in the Pangong Tso area.
This includes undertaking construction of a helipad at Finger 4 and a sudden increase of Chinese troops on the southern banks of Pangong Tso. This has led to apprehensions that the Chinese are asserting their claims and conveying their disinclination for restoration of status quo ante in the area.
An official told The Indian Express, “It is correct that the Chinese have started consolidating their positions on the north bank of Pangong Tso lake. There is a helipad that is now being constructed in the Finger 4 area, which is in addition to all the other infrastructure construction done by them in past eight weeks or so.”
“PLA patrols are now regularly making small forays down the ridge of Finger 3 towards the bank of the lake and then returning to the ridge. They are essentially asking us to move back to Finger 2,” the official said.
A second official said this meant that “the Chinese are telling us that they have no intention of going back or restoring the status quo as in April. It is why they have not been interested in discussing any disengagement or de-escalation in Pangong Tso.”
“We are also deployed in adequate strength but there are certain tactical restrictions imposed by the local terrain which we are cognisant of. Let me just say it is a challenging area for us,” the official said.
Pangong Tso and its northern bank have been a territory of contention between the two sides but before the current tensions arose, the Chinese had a permanent base at Finger 8. They have now deployed themselves eight kilometres to the west, at Finger 4 where they have also constructed shelters, pillboxes, bunkers and other infrastructure both on the bank and the ridgeline.
The Fingers are mountainous spurs jutting out from the ridge on the northern bank towards the lake.
While India asserts that the LAC in the area passes through Finger 8, the Chinese have always claimed it much further to the west. Historically, Indian patrols have had access to Finger 8 while the Chinese patrols would come further westward on vehicles using the road constructed during the 1999 Kargil War. A sharp rocky feature between the Finger 4 and Finger 3 means that the area to the west of Finger 4 is only accessible on foot.
India’s main base is close to Finger 3, around two kilometres west of the current Chinese deployment. The Indian side also has an administrative base closer to Finger 4, at the start of the sharp rocky feature. It is around this area that the Army has now deployed itself in response to the sudden Chinese deployment in the area. Less than 500 metres separate soldiers of both sides at this faceoff point.
The official also said that there has also been a sudden increase in Chinese troops on the southern bank of the lake, which has been matched by the Indian side as well.
This is the area of Chushul heights, where India has a base at Thakung on the southern bank. According to maps with the Indian Army, the LAC in the area goes south from Thakung to Point 5167 and Bump opposite the Spanggur Gap on the Chinese side.
Meanwhile, Army officers in Delhi confirmed that no further talks between the military commanders of both sides have been scheduled so far. After the meeting of the Corps Commanders on June 22, the consensus reached was to progress with meetings between the commanders on the ground.