China is constructing a bridge across East Ladakh’s Pangong Tso which would potentially allow its People’s Liberation Army to deploy troops faster between the north and south banks of the lake, reports said on Tuesday, citing satellite images from the region.

One-third of the nearly 160 kilometres-long lake lies in India, other two-thirds in China. It was one of the prominent flashpoints when border tensions between the two countries flared up in June 2020. In February 2021, Indian and Chinese armies agreed to pull back troops from the north and south banks of the lake.

The new bridge is being constructed more than 20 kilometres east of Finger 8 on the lake’s north bank, The Indian Express reported, citing unidentified sources. India claims the Line of Actual Control to be at Finger 8, while China claims it at Finger 4.

China is reportedly building the bridge near Khurnak Fort, situated near halfway mark of the lake.

During the standoff at Pangong Tso last year, Chinese troops had reportedly entered into Indian territory by crossing Finger 4. Later, in the intervening night of August 29 and 30 last year, Indian Army had blocked what it described as China’s attempt to “change the status quo” along the southern bank of the lake.

After this operation, India had managed to deploy troops at strategically important peaks, including the Magar Hill, Gurung Hill, Rezang La and Rechin La, according to The Indian Express.

Indian has a permanent position at the Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3, while China has a base east of Finger 8.

Map showing the previous standoff site along the Pangong Tso lake and the topography of the region. Credit: Reuters

Why is the bridge significant?

The bridge, reportedly located around 25 kilometres ahead of the Line of Actual Control, is expected to become a direct axis for movement of Chinese troops between the north and south banks of the lake, according to The Hindu.

“On the north Bank there is a PLA [People’s Liberation Army] garrison at Kurnak Fort and on the south Bank at Moldo...The distance between the two is around 200 kilometres,” an unidentified source told the newspaper. “The new bridge between the closest points on two banks which is around 500 metres will bring down movement time between the two sectors from around 12 hours to three to four hours.”

Over the last three months, Indian and Chinese troops have reportedly had a face-off in Arunachal Pradesh and the talks between two countries to further resolve the standoff in eastern Ladakh have failed.

Satellite images have shown that China has been setting up a cluster of buildings in Arunachal Pradesh and multiple villages in Bhutanese territory close to Doklam in Sikkim.