(This was originally posted in India Today by Shiv Aroor)
As India’s Covid-19 crisis gets worse, it has come to light that China has quietly hardened its positions in eastern Ladakh. Top sources tell India Today TV that far from winding down winter deployments, the Chinese Army has reinforced its presence in eastern Ladakh depth areas with permanent accommodations and depots — an aggressive stance amidst continuing talks.
While the pullback by Indian and Chinese troops from the Pangong Tso sectors in February had created an atmosphere of hope for a slow but steady disengagement, the new permanent Chinese accommodations built between Kangxiwar, just north of Aksai Chin, and Rudok in Tibet’s Ladakh frontier has caused alarm.
Ground intelligence and imagery with the Indian security establishment has led to an assessment that has echoed through the standoff periodically: that the PLA is here for the long haul.
India Today TV brings out these fresh facts on a day when Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of sympathy to Indian PM Narendra Modi over the Covid-19 deaths in the country, saying, “The Chinese side stands ready to strengthen cooperation with the Indian side in fighting the pandemic and provide support and help in this regard. I believe that under the leadership of the Indian Government, the Indian people will surely prevail over the pandemic.” Contrasting the diplomatic outreach from the Chinese government aside, the Chinese Army has quietly reinforced positions located to support the friction areas if necessary.
India Today TV learns that imagery shows that China’s winter deployment positions have been reinforced with permanent structures, accommodations and military buildings in a long arc through the Aksai Chin bulge, comprising depth areas from the friction points of the India-China standoff. These include Xaidulla in the southwestern part of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a strengthened Chinese radar site at Piue which is just across from Ladakh’s Chip Chap valley, and the military outpost at Kyrmmgo Traggar across the LAC from Hot Springs and Gogra Post.
The 10,000 permanent Chinese troops positioned at Kangxiwar and Rudok have been reinforced with 10,000 additional temporary troops according to one intelligence estimate.
“They have disengaged, but not reduced troop strength — a clear sign that they intend to be here for the long haul,” a military source told India Today TV. A map of the spring 2021 reinforcement has also strengthened the view that China is in no mood to dial down its aggressive posture across from the Depsang and Daulat Beg Oldie areas of northern Ladakh. India Today TV has reported on how China has slowly built up in these sectors as well.
Interestingly, the depth areas of Spanggur Tso, south of the Pangong lake have also been reinforced with permanent accommodations. This is adjacent to the sector where India had obtained a tactical advantage in the Kailash Range last August, forcing China into a stalemate. While some of these needed to be abandoned as part of the February pullback, the Indian Army is understood to still hold similarly advantageous positions in other sectors at this time.
The celebrated February disengagement is also revealing the reality of Chinese intent. While Chinese troops and positions have moved beyond Finger 8 in the north Pangong sector, a bulk of the forces remains in the rear areas with elements of the 4th, 6th and 11th Motorised Divisions still present in those areas. It must be said that there has been no reinforcement or strengthening of Chinese positions on the frontlines in any of the sectors, though that isn’t surprising given that such a move would be seen as immediately belligerent.
China’s quiet but aggressive reinforcement in depth areas, fully within view of the Indian military and intelligence agencies, comes just weeks after China showed surprising inflexibility during the last round of talks on April 9, at which time it virtually outright refused to discuss any pullback from the Gogra Post and Hot Springs friction points of the standoff area.
May 5 will mark one year since the military standoff began between the nuclear neighbours in eastern Ladakh, starting with a conflagration on the banks of the Pangong lake, and quickly spreading to other areas, most notably the Galwan Valley, Gogra Post and Hot Springs.