The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has opened a new front along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC), with its “provocative military movements” on the southern bank of Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh in the intervening night of August 29 and 30 aimed at altering the status quo in the area, people familiar with the developments said on Monday.
So far, Chinese aggression in this sector was confined to the lake’s northern bank, the Finger Area that has emerged as the toughest part of the disengagement process.
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“The PLA’s intentions stand exposed. Instead of carrying out disengagement and restoring the status quo ante in the existing friction areas, China is bent upon changing the status quo in new areas,” the officials said.
In a statement on the latest Chinese provocation, army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand said on Monday that the PLA has violated the consensus reached during military and diplomatic engagements to reduce tension in eastern Ladakh, where the two armies have been locked in a tense confrontation since early May.
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He said the army took measures to strengthen its positions and thwart the PLA’s intention to unilaterally change facts on the ground on the lake’s southern bank.
Experts concurred that the PLA was attempting to change the status quo in new areas.
“While there are areas on the northern bank, where the Indian Army only carries out patrolling, the southern bank is strongly held by us. The PLA is fully conscious of it. Any transgression by the PLA in this area is a clear indication that the PLA is trying to change the status quo and open a new front,” said Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd), former Northern Army commander.
The northern bank of the lake has been at the centre of the current round of border tension, as the PLA has refused to withdraw from the Finger Area, which refers to a set of eight cliffs jutting out of the Sirijap range overlooking the lake.
Before the PLA grabbed positions on Finger 4 overlooking Indian deployments, the army would patrol up to Finger 8 that New Delhi considers as an integral part of its territory. The new positions held by the PLA have curtailed the scope of Indian patrols.
Fingers 4 and 8 are eight kilometres (km) apart.
“The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and tranquility through dialogue, but is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity,” said the army statement.
A brigade commander-level flag meeting is in progress at Chushul to resolve the situation on the southern bank.
LAC tension has escalated at a time, when talks with China to reduce border tension in eastern Ladakh are stuck in a stalemate and the two sides have failed to bridge their differences on the disengagement and de-escalation process.
The military dialogue between senior commanders from the two sides has hit a roadblock due to Chinese reluctance to restore status quo ante in some key friction areas along the LAC.
The sizeable Chinese troop presence at friction points, particularly Pangong Lake and Depsang, is a cause for concern for the Indian Army. Disengagement has progressed smoothly at friction points in Galwan Valley and Hot Springs, but its pace is sluggish in the Gogra area.
De-escalation along the disputed border can only begin after disengagement between the two armies on the LAC.
The ground situation remains unchanged in Ladakh sector, where both armies have deployed almost 100,000 soldiers and weaponry in their forward and depth areas.
In a recent interview to HT, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat had explicitly stated that a military option to deal with transgressions by the PLA is on the table, but would be exercised only if talks between the two armies and the diplomatic option turned out to be unproductive.