(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Dinakar Peri)
A year since the violent clash between the Armies of India and China in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has built additional accommodation in the depth areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on its side and is preparing for the long haul, official sources said.
“PLA has built additional accommodations, both permanent and temporary, in Rudok, Kangxiwar, Gyantse and Golmud areas. Construction of field hospitals and procurement of additional snow mobility vehicles by the PLA also indicate that they are preparing for the long haul and permanent winter occupation of these posts,” a source said.
According to intelligence inputs, the Chinese troops in the Pangong Lake area have all been rotated. China’s 4th and 6th Divisions were withdrawn from both the banks of Pangong Lake to Rutog County for repairs in February, and returned to Xinjiang for repairs in the past three weeks. They were replaced by the 8th and 11th Divisions. Each division has two mobile infantry regiments, an armoured regiment, an artillery regiment and an air defence regiment.
“China is also intensifying construction work behind the main confrontation points in Aksai Chin,” the source said, citing intelligence inputs.
The PLA has also conducted exercises in Tibet and opposite Arunachal Pradesh. For instance, in the first week of this month, the PLA conducted a small arms training at Shigatse in Tibet. The PLA soldiers were trained in anti-tank rocket launchers, grenade launchers, anti-aircraft machine guns and other weapons, according to inputs. In early May, Chinese state media Global Times reported that a unit of the PLA in the Xinjiang Military District under the Western Theatre Command had deployed new long-range heavy rocket artillery in the border region at an altitude of 5,200 meters.
Near Arunachal Pradesh
Training was also recently conducted at a location opposite Tawang in Arunachal Pradeshat an altitude of 5,130 meters by a regiment from Shannan Army division, the official stated.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat recently said all armies during peacetime carry out training activities, and the conduct of exercises is one such event to maintain operational preparedness. He added that China as well as India has carried out turnover of troops, and the best way to familiarise new troops is to carry out exercises.
On the disengagement situation in the Pangong Tso area, two officials said both sides had agreed to and have actually disengaged from the Finger areas on the north bank, but added that it was only disengaged and not de-induction. Most Chinese deployment had just shifted back to the rear areas, one of the officials said.
Both sides have also emptied the heights of the Kailash ranges on the south bank where the Indian Army was in an advantageous position after decades due to the operation by the Special Frontier Force (SFF) in the end of August pre-empting Chinese moves to occupy them.
However, there has been no progress in the talks for disengagement at Gogra and Hotsprings as well as in Demchok and the strategic Depsang Valley. There was no change in the ground situation since the disengagement at Pangong Tso and the situation is quiet, the second official said.
In the first combat fatalities in 45 years, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the violent clash after they were attacked by Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley on the night of June 15, 2020, during a “de-escalation” process after a month-long stand-off between the troops at several points in eastern Ladakh and Sikkim. China, which initially did not reveal its casualty numbers, later said four of its soldiers had been killed.
11 rounds of talks
India and China have so far held 11 rounds of military talks for disengagement and de-escalation in eastern Ladakh since the stand-off began in early May 2020. Defence officials said there was no clarity yet on when the next round of talks would be held.
Army chief General M.M. Naravane recently said India was dealing with China in a “firm and non-escalatory” manner and the coming rounds of talks would focus on restoration of status quo ante of April 2020.
The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson recently said the process of disengagement along the LAC “remains unfinished” and early completion of disengagement could lead to a de-escalation of forces which would “hopefully” lead to full restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas and enable overall progress in the bilateral relationship.