The region where China is building a bridge on East Ladakh’s Pangong Tso lake has been under its “illegal occupation for around 60 years”, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday. The ministry’s spokesperson Arindam Bagchi noted that the bridge is being built on the Chinese side of the lake.

The statement came two days after satellite images from the region showed that the bridge was being built. Reports suggested that the bridge would potentially allow the Chinese Army to deploy troops faster between the north and south banks of the lake. One-third of the nearly 160 kilometres-long lake, which has been a major flashpoint of border tensions, lies in India. The other two-third lies in China.

Bagchi’s comment on Thursday was the first official acknowledgement by New Delhi of the bridge being built.

“...government has been monitoring this activity closely,” the spokesperson said while responding to a reporter’s question during the foreign ministry’s weekly briefing. “This bridge is being constructed in areas that have been under the illegal occupation by China for around 60 years now. As you are well aware, India has never accepted such illegal occupation.”

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

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

On China’s renaming of places in Arunachal Pradesh

The foreign ministry spokesperson also said that China’s recent decision to rename 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh was a “ridiculous exercise”.

On December 29, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs had standardised in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of 15 places in Zangnan, or “South Tibet”. The 15 places include eight residential areas, four mountains, two rivers and a mountain pass.

China claims that Arunachal Pradesh is “South Tibet” – an area that falls under its administrative control. Last year, the country had said that it did not recognise Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India.

At the weekly briefing on Thursday, Bagchi described China’s action as “untenable territorial claims”.

“Calling Tuting as ‘DouDeng’ or River Siyom as ‘XiYueMu’ or even Kibithu as ‘Daba’ does not alter the fact that Arunachal Pradesh has always been and will always remain an inalienable part of India,” he said in response to a question on the matter.

This was the second time that India rejected China’s move to rename the 15 places. At last week’s weekly briefing of the external affairs ministry, Bagchi had said that “invented names” did not change the fact that Arunachal Pradesh has been and always will be an integral part of India.