Bilateral International Relations Prelims cum Mains

Pangong Tso lake, theatre of India-China LAC scuffles

In News:

  • Recently a scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the bank of the Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh, but the matter has been swiftly resolved through talks between the two militaries.
  • Note: A similar incident happened in 2017, in the same area in Eastern Ladakh.

About Pangong Tso Lake:

  • Pangong means extensive concavity in the Ladakhi language and Tso means lake in Tibetan.
  • This is a long lake with crystal clear but undrinkable brackish water.
  • Pangong Tso is a long narrow, deep, endorheic (landlocked) lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 ft in the Ladakh Himalayas.
  • The western end of Pangong Tso lies 54 km to the southeast of Leh.
  • The 135 km-long lake sprawls over 604 sq km in the shape of a boomerang, and is 6 km wide at its broadest point.
  • The lake freezes over in winter, and becomes ideal for ice skating and polo.
  • Note: The legendary 19th century Dogra general Zorawar Singh is said to have trained his soldiers and horses on the frozen Pangong lake before invading Tibet.

Reason for the dispute:

  • The Line of Actual Control cuts through the lake, but India and China do not agree on its exact location. The difference in perception over where the LAC lies on the northern bank of the lake, makes this contested terrain.
  • In 1999, when the Army unit from the area was moved to Kargil for Operation Vijay, China took the opportunity to build 5 km of road inside Indian territory along the lake’s bank.
  • The 1999 road added to the extensive network of roads built by the Chinese in the area, which connect with each other and to the G219 Karakoram Highway.
  • From one of these roads, Chinese positions physically overlook Indian positions on the northern tip of the Pangong lake.
  • As things stand, a 45 km-long western portion of the lake is in Indian control, while the rest is under China’s control.
  • Most of the clashes between the two armies occur in the disputed portion of the lake.

Increased tensions along the lake:

  • On the water, the Chinese had a major advantage until a few years ago, but India purchased better boats some seven years ago, leading to a quicker and more aggressive response.
  • Although there are well-established drills for disengagement of patrol boats of both sides, the confrontations on the waters have led to tense situations in the past few years.
  • The induction of high-speed boats has apparently provoked the Chinese, who have responded by increasing the number of transgressions in this area in recent years.

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