Even as India and China discuss disengagement from friction points in Ladakh at the military-diplomatic talks, the People’s Liberation Army is constructing new structures and relocating troops and equipment to occupied Aksai Chin in Tibet as well as Xinjiang with no intention of backing off from the 1,597 km of Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh at least this winter.
Senior military officials said they had noticed construction of a huge structure spread across 3 lakh square feet – almost the size of four football fields – has been noticed around 10 kilometres from the LAC in occupied Aksai Chin across Gogra-Hot Springs area.
According to a retired army chief, the humongous facility could be used for housing troops, artillery, rocket regiments and tanks as the barrels of tanks and guns are known to freeze and go brittle in sub-polar conditions. Given that the structure is very close to the LAC, it could also be used for setting up hospital facilities to treat PLA troops suffering from acute mountain sickness and high-altitude pulmonary edema. Both can prove fatal if not treated properly.
New deployment of vehicles and equipment under camouflage has also been picked up in Xinjiang, 82 kilometres from the LAC.
The Indian side has also spotted relocation of troops and equipment around a PLA camp 92 kilometres inside Aksai Chin and movement of a large number of PLA vehicles in the Tibet region across Ladakh’s Demchok. It is also very clear that PLA intelligence is watching the Galwan region and the Kongka La area from positions 8 to 20 km from the LAC in Aksai Chin.
The PLA is building a new road between Hotan and Kanxiwar in Xinjiang, some 166 km from the India-China border to provide an alternative route to Aksai Chin for the troops and equipment. The Chinese air supplies for the LAC stand-off are getting dropped off at the Hotan air base, 320 km from LAC as the crow flies, through Y-20 planes, widely acknowledged to be a copy of Russian IL-76 transport aircraft.
The PLA activity is not limited to Ladakh. Some 60 km from the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, people familiar with the matter said, counter-space jammers had been deployed to ensure that PLA activity is not picked up by an adversary through satellites. It is understood that PLA has deployed Russian S-400 missile systems in depth areas around Nyingchi city across Arunachal Pradesh to cater to any aerial threat.
The net assessment of PLA posture is that China is consolidating its positions with bases and storage depots being set up in Golmud, which is connected to Lhasa through trains with a dual use airport used for both civilian and military purposes in Qinghai province.
While Beijing says that it is committed to disengagement and de-escalation from the Ladakh LAC as agreed upon by foreign ministers S Jaishankar and Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10, the PLA is apparently showing no sign or desire to adhere to the commitment.
As a result of China’s reluctance to take a step back, the Indian Army has been on alert with its troops proactively patrolling within its limits with the XIV Corps Command taken over by Lt Gen PGK Menon of the Sikh Regiment. With snow ready to fall in contested points on Gorga-Hot Springs, North and South Pangong Tso, it will be a long winter for the deployed troops.