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China is building a new bridge on a disputed Himalayan border, drawing ire from India

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China is building a new bridge on a disputed Himalayan border, drawing ire from India

China is constructing a bridge across a lake in Ladakh, on China’s Himalayan border with India, which the Indian government has denounced as “illegal construction.”

It is the stronger of two Chinese bridges that span the Pangong Tso lake.

A retired Indian Army commander who used to be stationed in Ladakh told CNBC that the new bridge can sustain tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and that it will allow China speed up deployment between the river sides.

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“What the bridge gives the Chinese is the capacity to transfer forces quickly between the north and south banks of Pangong Tso lake, which they didn’t have before,” said General Rohit Gupta, who served with the Indian Army’s Northern Command’s Fire and Fury Corps.

The continuous conflict between the two nations is taking place in Ladakh.

According to their respective governments, it was a flashpoint between India and China in mid-2020, when violent battles killed 20 Indian soldiers and five Chinese forces. According to other accounts, the Chinese death toll is between 38 and 45 soldiers.

The lake of Pangong Tso is located in contested territory that is claimed by both countries. Since the 1960s, China has controlled two-thirds of the lake, with India holding the remaining one-third.

“We’ve heard that China is building a bridge alongside its previous bridge on Pangong Lake. Both of these bridges are located in areas that have been under China’s illegal occupation since the 1960s, according to India’s external affairs ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi.

He stated, “We have never acknowledged such illegal takeover of our area, nor have we recognised the unreasonable Chinese claim or such construction activities.”

The new bridge, which cuts the 130-kilometer distance between the lake’s southern and northern banks in half, is part of an effort, according to Gen. Gupta, to counteract an Indian tactical advantage in the area.

India has also constructed a lot of infrastructure, according to Gen. Gupta, to help with “better tactical, operational” deployment of forces. While the new Chinese bridge was a source of concern, he noted that it could be mitigated.

“Interdiction of known terrain entities is achievable, particularly through precision munitions launched from a variety of resources,” he added, adding that the Indian side had a clear view of the bridge from its positions.

Deep Pal, a visiting scholar in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia programme, told CNBC on Monday, before the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue on Tuesday, that the bridge controversy would likely have been mentioned as part of the larger security discussions in the Quad conference.

On Tuesday, the four-nation Quad — Australia, India, Japan, and the United States — met in Tokyo for a leaders’ meeting. The purpose of the alliance is to offset China’s increasing aggressiveness in the region.

“However, the Quad will not be able to respond immediately,” Pal continued, pointing out that the organisation was not a “Asian Nato.”

India is the only one of the Quad’s four countries that shares a border with China. The 3,488-kilometer unmarked boundary between India and China is the longest disputed border in the world.

Ajay Dua, the former Indian trade secretary, told CNBC on Tuesday that the Quad nations should work together militarily, even if it means angering China.

“I’d want to see the Quad nations come together to give stronger military security,” he said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia,” adding that it’s a “need of the hour.”

Despite 15 rounds of discussions to de-escalate military tensions following a violent incident in 2020, China and India still have tens of thousands of troops stationed on the border.

In June of that year, the two nuclear-armed Asian superpowers engaged in a terrible and gory hand-to-hand battle using metal rods, bludgeons made of nail filings, and other makeshift weapons.

To avoid escalation, both countries have agreed not to carry or use firearms under earlier treaties.

Highlighting China’s belligerence at its border with India and with neighbors in the South China Sea, Dua noted the Quad was formed in 2007 as a security dialogue — not as a trade agreement.

“I would like to see [Quad countries provide] military security irrespective of the Chinese reaction,” he said, adding that China had already conducted a disinformation campaign, labeling the Quad as an anti-China grouping.

“No country in the region can handle China alone. The U.S. on its own can,” he said.

CIMR

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