UPSC PRELIMS 2020: Pangong Tso Lake

Topic: Pangong Tso Lake

 

Topic in Syllabus: International Affairs

Pangong Tso Lake

Context:

  • Indian and Chinese soldiers had a heated exchange in Ladakh near the Pangong Tso Lake few days back. However, the issue has now been resolved, the report said.
  • The incident recalls a similar incident almost exactly two years ago, in the same area in Eastern Ladakh.
  • Differing perceptions of where exactly the LAC lies has often been the reason for such incidents.

 

Pangong Tso:

  • In the Ladakhi language, Pangong means extensive concavity, and Tso is lake in Tibetan.
  • 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 brackish water lake freezes over in winter, and becomes ideal for ice skating and polo.
  • 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.

 

Background:

  • On August 19, 2017, a video was posted online that appeared to be visual confirmation of reports of an alleged scuffle that had taken place a few days earlier between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the banks of Pangong lake.
  • The video showed the two sides kicking and punching, throwing stones, using sticks and rods against each other.
  • In the normal course, the two patrols, after coming face to face, would have been expected to engage in what is called a “banner drill”, displaying a banner asking the other side to vacate its territory.
  • Such a drill might last a few minutes to an hour — but barring some occasional jostling, the two sides would disengage quietly.

 

Strategic significance:

  • The LAC cuts through the lake, but India and China do not agree on its exact location.
  • 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.By itself, the lake does not have major tactical significance.
  • But it lies in the path of the Chushul approach, one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive into Indian-held territory.
  • Indian assessments show that a major Chinese offensive, if it comes, will flow across both the north and south of the lake.

 

Significance

  • During the 1962 war, this was where China launched its main offensive — the Indian Army fought heroically at Rezang La, the mountain pass on the southeastern approach to Chushul valley.
  • Over the years, the Chinese have built motorable roads along their banks of the Pangong Tso.
  • At the PLA’s Huangyangtan base at Minningzhen, southwest of Yinchuan, the capital of China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, stands a massive to-scale model of this disputed area in Aksai Chin.
  • It points to the importance accorded by the Chinese to the area.

 

The dispute in the area

  • 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 August 2017 skirmish took place in this area.
  • 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.
  • The mountains on the lake’s northern bank jut forward in major spurs, which the Army calls “fingers”. India claims that the LAC is coterminous with Finger 8.

 

Why Chinese aggression?

  • 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 ostensibly provoked the Chinese, who have responded by increasing the number of transgressions in this area in recent years.