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Ladakh standoff: China reinforces military positions

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A year after Indian and Chinese soldiers first clashed on the north bank of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, China is now further reinforcing its military positions and rotating troops in the "depth areas" along the in a clear signal that it has no intent to de-escalate anytime soon, Times of India reported Wednesday.

With the harsh winter having receded, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is fast converting the temporary structures, ammunition dumps, helipads and surface-to-air missile positions it had set up last year in the "depth areas", ranging from 25 to 120-km from the LAC, into permanent positions now.

"There is no fresh accretion of PLA troops on the frontlines in eastern Ladakh. But China continues to maintain sizable forces in the areas to the rear of the friction points, while it reinforces military positions all along the frontier in the region," a senior Indian officer was quoted as saying.

"The Rutog Country area, which can act as a staging area for Pangong Tso since it is only around 100-km away, for instance, has witnessed a lot of activity in recent days. The PLA, of course, can move forces much faster to the LAC due to better road and other connectivity," the officer said.

It was on May 5-6 last year that dozens of Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in the major brawl that had erupted on the north bank of Pangong Tso, which was followed by another one at Naku La in north Sikkim on May 9.

India had then been caught off-guard by the way China had suddenly diverted its troops from their annual springsummer exercises to undertake multiple incursions into eastern Ladakh in a well-planned manner, the TOI report said. In response, India had moved over three additional divisions (each has 10,000-12,000 troops), howitzers and armored vehicles into Ladakh, along with deploying fighters as well as attack and heavy-lift helicopters in forward bases, to match the PLA deployments.

The tense face-off had led to the violent skirmishes in the Galwan Valley on June 15, with casualties on both sides being witnessed for the first time in 45 years, and even "warning shots" being exchanged by the rival troops in the Kailash Range-Chushul sector between August 29 and September 8. After multiple diplomatic and military talks, the two armies finally disengaged on both sides of the Pangong Tso in February.

But since then, the PLA has flatly refused to pullback from Gogra, Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang Plains, as was reported earlier by TOI. With the onset of summer, both India and China are rotating their troops in the forward areas as well as readying for their annual exercises and stepped-up deployments now. The PLA, for instance, has replaced its two motorized infantry divisions across the LAC with fresh ones over the last month, the TOI report said.

Apart from systematically building roads, military camps, missile positions and other infrastructure all along the 3,488- km Line of Actual Control from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese airbases like Hotan, Kashgar, Gargunsa (Ngari Gunsa), Lhasa-Gonggar and Shigatse have also augmented their capacities for additional fighters and bombers, the TOI report said.

Ironically, as Ladakh-standoff continues, China has become India's largest supplier of crucial anti-epidemic supplies such as oxygen generators and ventilators as COVID-19 'tsunami' hits India. So far, China has provided India with more than 20,000 oxygen generators and 5,000 ventilators. India has submitted orders to Chinese companies to produce over 40,000 units of oxygen generators, according to Global Times.

No agreement reached in 11 round of high-level military talks

The Chinese and Indian militaries had held 11 round of corps commander-level meeting but failed to reach any agreement. Tellingly the 11th round of talks held on April 9 ended without a joint statement.

The India Times later reported that 11th round of military talks between India and China saw the Chinese side switching track, taking a rigid position on de-escalation in the Gogra-Hot Springs area, in contrast to its earlier posture when it was more fixated on the Finger area near Pangong lake.

The reasons for the Chinese posture are not immediately clear but could have to do with India deepening its Quad engagement despite Beijing's admonitions and a refusal to consider any rollback of several decisions like bans on Chinese apps until status quo returns to LAC. Though never quite so spelt out, China's repeated remarks that the borders are only a part of bilateral ties indicate a desire for some concessions before a complete pullback, according to the India Times.

The paper quoted informed sources as saying that larger bilateral issues and any likely linkages or quid pro quo expectations in the context of disengagement and de-escalation do not figure in talks between military commanders. Indian position has remained that normalcy in ties can't precede Chinese troops vacating the standoff points and a larger de-escalation, the paper concluded.

China deploys long-range rocket launcher 'as deterrent to India'

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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