Ladakh face-off | Noticeable thinning of Chinese troop presence along LAC, says govt official

This June 18, 2020, satellite photo released by Planet Labs, shows the reported site of a fatal clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan River Valley in the Ladakh region near the Line of Actual Control.

This June 18, 2020, satellite photo released by Planet Labs, shows the reported site of a fatal clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan River Valley in the Ladakh region near the Line of Actual Control.   | Photo Credit: AP

Chinese troops have neither vacated nor removed any of the prefabricated or semi-permanent structures built since May at the disputed sites along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, a senior government official told The Hindu. However, the official added that in the past three days, there has been a “noticeable thinning of presence of Chinese troops” at some of the three friction points.

Also read: Full text of MEA spokesman Anurag Srivastava’s statement

The official added that removal of structures was not part of the original June 22 agreement at the Corps Commander-level talks, till the two parties met again with concrete proposals stitched together by the two governments.

“It was decided that there will be no patrolling, movement of troops and vehicles or any fresh construction activity by either side. This reduction (of structures) was not being expected,” the official said.

The three areas are Galwan, Hot Springs and the Finger area near Pangong Tso (lake) in Ladakh along the LAC. China has also fortified positions at Depsang plains in the north.

Also read: Why China is being aggressive along the LAC

Another official said that the entire stretch along the LAC in Ladakh was seeing “worrisome hardening of Chinese positions, including the placement of 10 mechanised and armoured regiments and at least 15 positions of artillery guns.”

Situation precarious

The situation is particularly precarious in the Finger area area near Pangong Tso (lake) in eastern Ladakh, where the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has occupied positions till Finger 4, the first official said. The distance between Finger 4-8, around 8 kms, was till now patrolled both by India and China.

India considers its perception of the LAC to end at Finger 8. However, since April, the Chinese troops advanced till Finger 4 and have occupied the area where both sides regularly patrolled and face-offs used to occur, the official said. On May 18, violent clashes had occurred at this site resulting in injuries to many soldiers.

After the June 22 Corps Commander-level talks, which took place in the aftermath of the June 15 Galwan incident where 20 Indian army personnel were killed in a violent clash, both China and India agreed to reduce their presence from the friction points where they are still “eyeball to eyeball,” with Finger area emerging as a thorn in the discussion.

“The Chinese have reduced the presence in the Finger area but certainly they have not moved back an inch. It is anticipated that if they agree to do so, then they will use it as a leverage to assert their claim in some other disputed area,” said the official, adding that the commanders on the ground are awaiting the outcome of diplomatic-level talks to take further action.

Analysis of images

The government also tasked the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) to analyse the satellite images shared by foreign researchers on social media, which indicate that between June 15 and 22, China rebuilt the observation post and also set up structures reinforcing its positions at the clash site in Galwan area.

“Around 300-500 images were analysed. The images shared on social media of the Galwan valley are 2D images, whereas the situation on the ground is different. The Chinese added structures after the June 15 incident, but no new structure has come up post June 22. The helipad one sees in the image, said to be on the Chinese side, was built by India a few days ago,” the official said.

The official said that in the image, the Galwan river appears to be flowing on a flat surface when that is not the case on the ground.

“We have come to the conclusion that the images are of June 22 but no new structure has come up after the talks. Yes, the Chinese did construct many structures before that,” said the official.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 8:02:53 PM |

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