A bridge being built by China over Lake Pangong in a disputed part of northwestern India could further fuel tensions between the two countries, border conflict experts said.
The bridge, which stretches about 500 meters (1,640 feet), is located south of a position occupied by China’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the northern shore of Lake Ladakh, an area that India claims China has occupied illegally since 1962. The area has been the site of clashes between the countries, as has the so-called Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, which separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory.
The bridge will reduce the travel distance between the PLA position and a military base in Rutog (in Chinese, Ritu) county, Ngari prefecture, in the remote western Tibet Autonomous Region by about 150 kilometers (93 miles), making it easier for Chinese troops to counter Indian forces if future flare-ups occur.
In January, geo-intelligence expert Damien Symon first used satellite imagery to show that China was building a bridge over Pangong Lake, the eastern Ladakh territory it controls. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that month construction would protect China’s security.
“China, which is bridging Lake Pangong, is a key area for the Indian border,” said Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “Despite land agreements between the two, China has carried out military activities in the border area. The bridge will make it easier for Chinese troops to access the region.”
Sana Hashmi, a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation in Taipei, whose research focuses on China’s foreign policy and territorial disputes, said the border conflict will be at the forefront of China-India relations in the future.
“This only shows that China has no real intention of resolving the conflict and that tensions will only grow,” she told the RFA in a written statement.
India is responding to the bridge construction by boosting its defense capabilities and seeking cooperation with like-minded countries, Sana Hashmi said.
Kunchok Tenzin, a councilor from the Pangong Lake area, said the construction of the bridge has caused concern among locals, who fear they could be harmed if a clash between India and China breaks out.
“The Indian government should make the development of border areas a priority and ensure the safety of the local residents,” he said.
The monk Kunchok Rigchok from Pangong Monastery said people know the bridge could pose a threat in the future.
“Although there is no fear as we have lived here all our lives but the Indian government must remain vigilant because China has illegally occupied land in the region,” he said. “They may soon be aiming for our place.”
Tenzin Lhundup, a resident of Pangong Lake who lives on the border, said he was born in the area and intends to live there until he dies.
“We are not afraid of the Chinese as they have visited this area even during the pandemic shutdown,” he said.
Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.