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1.         The relationship between contemporary China and India has been characterised by border disputes – a legacy of history, resulting in three Military conflicts i.e. The Sino Indian War of 1962, the clashes at Nathu-La and Cho-La in 1967 and the skirmish at Somdorong Chu Valley in 1987. Nearer home, the two countries reached a flash point at the Dokhlam Plateau in early 2017. However the latest standoff at Galwan and in general area Pangong Tso Lake since May 2020 culminated into a bloody fist fight on 15 Jun 2020 between two nuclear powers leaving approximately 60 to 70 soldiers dead on both sides.

Galwan Valley and its Strategic Importance

2.         Galwan Valley, located at approximately 17000 ft above sea level is named after Mr Gulam Rasool Galwan who is a descendant of Kashmir. It is said that as a young 14 years old lad he used to accompany the Britishers on expeditions and on one such expedition the Britishers lost their way and it was young Gulam Rasool Galwan who guided the expedition to safety through this valley. The Britishers thereafter, as a mark of appreciation for Gulam Rasool Galwan named this valley as Galwan Valley - a rare honour for an adventurer. The valley derives its name from the River Galwan which originates in the Karakoram Ranges and flows through Aksai Chin and eastern Ladakh before it joins the River Shyok. The Valley and river both hold significant importance to both India and China.

3.         It is necessary to have some knowledge of the area for better understanding of the current standoff. China has two main highways in this area. The first highway originates from Tibet and moves from West to East through central Aksai Chin onto Kashgar in China. The second highway is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) earlier known as the Karakoram highway. The CPEC originates from Kashgar in China and moves to Khunjerab Pass into POK (Haweli) to Gilgit and culminates at Gwadhar. These two highways are China’s lifeline to Tibet and Gwadhar and thus China will like to ensure that India should not be able to interdict in any of these highways in any manner.

4.         From the Indian perspective, the Galwan Valley area is equally strategic and important. India has recently constructed a 255 Kms long road from Durbok to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) via Shyok which is a threat to Aksai Chin and thus an irritant for the Chinese. In addition, India has also recently completed construction of a 60-metre bridge approx four kilometres east of the confluence of Shyok and Galwan rivers which links the narrow mountainous region to the Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi Road. The bridge will facilitate quicker movement of Indian troops in the area that is not very far from the site of the violent clashes in Galwan on 15 Jun 2020. The Leh – DBO Road road is India’s approach to the Hot Springs area, the Galwan Valley area and is used to replenish our tps at Saser Ridge and in Siachen Glacier. Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) is a temporary Landing Ground which can take on heavy lift aircrafts such as C-17 and the Globe Master. In case of any misadventure by China, India is now in a position for faster build-up of war material in a matter of hours which earlier used to take 3 to 4 days in the absence of the road. Besides if India continues to control this area it can interdict in Tibet and also influence activities in the Gwadhar Port. Conversely, if this area falls in Chinese control not only will China get depth for both its life line highways but will also be able to successfully interdict  in Indian usage of the 255 kms Leh- DBO Road which will render our Siachen Area untenable. Therefore it is vitally important for India not allow Chinese presence in this area at any cost. 

The Pangang Tso Lake

5.         The Pangang Tso Lake located at a height of 4350 metres above MSL is approx 150 kms east from the town of Leh. The lake is 70 Kms long and is a longish feature flowing East to West of which1/3rd of the lake is with India while 2/3rd is under Chinese control. The lake is recharged with fresh water from nearly mountains. However there is no outlet as such the water is brackish. The only water outlet is evaporation or seepage into the soil. The lake per se holds no tactical advantage for the Chinese except that it can be used for the purpose of fast communication in a mountainous territory. The lake is surrounded by high mountains and there are 8 fingers numbered from 1 to 8 coming down towards the lake. Traditionally, Finger 1 to Finger 4 has been under Indian control and area beyond Finger 8 under Chinese control. The area falling between Fingers 4 to Finger 8 is a grey area claimed by both India and China. This area is patrolled by both parties and whenever patrolling parties meet in this grey area it results in a confrontation. The Indians have their last post at Finger 3 while Chinese have a base at Sirijap at Finger 8. Indian view is that the LAC bisects at area Finger 8 while the Chinese view is that the LAC bisects area Finger 4.

6.         The latest clash on 15 June 2020 was in the area of Finger 4 where the Chinese erected a tent and also tried to control the flow of water into Indian Territory which was objected by the Indian forces.

Depsang Valley

7.         The Depsang Plains region is a major hotspot after the Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and Hot Spring areas. The Depsang Plains are located at the Line of Actual Control that separates the Indian and Chinese controlled regions. India controls the western portion of the plains as part of Ladakh, whereas the eastern portion is part of the Aksai Chin region, and is controlled by China but claimed by India.

8.         After violent faceoff with Indian Army at Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh, China has now positioned its troops in Depsang plains on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The reason behind the latest move of China appears to be India's strong stand on several fronts simultaneously. India has already completed the construction of DSDBO road, besides making a road from Drubuk to DBO along the LAC, giving sleepless nights to China, which is now opening several fronts on the Sino-India border. India has now increased its capability to keep an eye on Chinese activities from Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO).

9.         In April 2013, the Chinese PLA troops set up a temporary camp in the Depsang Bulge, but later withdrew as a result of a diplomatic agreement with India. The military objectives of either country are far too important at Depsang than those at the north bank of Pangong Tso, Galwan valley or Gogra Hot Springs. The LAC at Depsang is disputed by both sides, which have vastly varying perceptions of the alignment. The area has seen two major standoffs in 2013 and 2014 besides dozens of face-offs annually when troops come face-to-face while patrolling. The People’s Liberation Army has amassed troops in big numbers at a place called “Bottleneck” which is 25 km southeast of the strategic airfield in Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO). DBO is also approx 20 km south of the 18,176-ft-high Karakoram pass, which divides Ladakh and Xinjiang in China. On the Indian side, the PLA’s military objectives could be to threaten a section of the 255 km Darbuk-Shayok-DBO (DSDBO) road, attempt to cut off the DBO sector, which could restrict access to the Karakoram pass and a bid to seize the 20,000-ft-high Saser La, which is to the west of Depsang. It further opens a route to Sasoma and crucially the road to Siachen.

10.       The build-up invokes memories of both the 1962 war, when Chinese troops had occupied all of the Depsang plains.