China building spree at Depsang Plains
A recent intelligence report suggests the Chinese are building additional roads, helipads and military camps inside India-claimed lines on the strategic Depsang Plains, where they have so far resisted any disengagement process, sources in the security establishment said on Monday.
The report appears to provide further corroboration of fears that China plans to hold on to territory that it has occupied at multiple transgression points in eastern Ladakh since May 2020 and declare a new status quo on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The development comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping last week told the country’s army to “focus all its energy on fighting” in preparation for war, as reported by a Communist Party of China mouthpiece.
Carrying pictures of Xi in army uniform during a visit to the command centre, People’s Daily quoted the Chinese President as saying the army must “comprehensively strengthen military training in preparation for war”. The report did not quote Xi as having named any country.
A security official attached to the Union home ministry said: “The latest intelligence report indicates that the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) continues to ramp up its military infrastructure on the Depsang Plains where it is estimated to be entrenched 18km inside India-claimed lines.”
He said the Chinese had for months been building roads and military camps within India-claimed lines on occupied territory in Ladakh, and the latest report suggested the drive was continuing.
The Indian army chief, General Manoj Pande, had on Saturday said the situation in eastern Ladakh was “stable but unpredictable” and revealed that the onset of winter had not led to any significant reduction in the Chinese army’s numbers along the LAC.
Defence ministry sources said the biggest worry was the Chinese army’s unwillingness to discuss disengagement from the Depsang Plains.
“They have so far shown no intent to pull back from the Depsang Plains, which has led to a very tense situation, particularly since they are not letting Indian soldiers patrol there,” a ministry official said.
He said India’s focus during the next corps commander-level talks between the two sides would be on disengagement from the Depsang Plains.
Sixteen rounds of military talks have led to partial disengagement from Gogra, the Galwan Valley, the Pangong Lake and Hot Springs, with both sides pulling back by equal distances to create “buffer zones” that neither can patrol. This means that while the Chinese still remain within India-claimed lines, India has given up patrolling rights over more areas.
The Indian army maintains that these buffer zones are temporary and that India has not given up its right over these areas.
The Chinese are estimated to have taken over close to 1,000sqkm of India-claimed territory in eastern Ladakh since May 2020.
India and China are each estimated to have deployed an additional 60,000-odd troops with weaponry along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.