The bridge being constructed by Beijing on the Pangong Tso lake is in an area under the illegal occupation of China since the 1960s, India’s foreign ministry said on Friday.

“We have never accepted such illegal occupation of our territory, nor have we accepted the unjustified Chinese claim or such construction activities,” the ministry said. “We have made it clear on several occasions that the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are an integral part of India and we expect other countries to respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The ministry’s statement came after several media reports, citing satellite images from the region, had said on Wednesday that China is building a second bridge, parallel to the one built earlier, across East Ladakh’s Pangong Tso lake. The bridge can potentially give the People’s Liberation Army quicker connectivity through the terrain.

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

The ministry had said on Thursday that it was monitoring the situation and talks were underway with the Chinese side.

On Friday, it said that the government keeps a constant watch on all developments that have a bearing on the country’s security and takes measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, before the ministry’s Friday statement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that India’s response to both the bridges being built had been the same: “We are monitoring the situation.”

He said that India’s security and territorial integrity is non-negotiable.

“A timid and docile response won’t do,” the Congress leader added. “PM [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] must defend the nation.”

Reports of China building the first bridge across the Pangong Tso lake in East Ladakh, more than 20 kilometres east of Finger 8 on the lake’s north bank, had surfaced on January 4.

The second bridge looks visibly broader than the previous one, India Today reported, adding that work on the bridge had started sometime between late March and early April this year.

While India claims the Line of Actual Control to be at Finger 8, China claims it at Finger 4. India has a permanent position at the Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3, while China has a base east of Finger 8.