The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may be actually eyeing the Depsang plains while creating a diversion in Pangong Tso and Galwan. Several Indian media reports have cited top security officials revealing how the Chinese troops have been blocking the Indian soldiers to patrol the points in Depsang plains.
China has reportedly positioned two brigades and cut off India’s access to Patrol Point (PP) 10 to 13 in Depsang plains. This began a few weeks before the present standoff began when the PLA denied access to these traditional PPs, stated a report by Indian Express citing a top security officer.
The Depsang plains are strategically important as it provides a flat surface amid the mountainous terrain, like in Spanggur Gap in the Chushul sub-sector, which can be used for a military attack. The plains are only 30 kilometers away from the Daulat Beg Oldie post at the northernmost tip of India in the Karakoram mountains.
According to the report, the officer pointed out that since the LAC in Depsang Plains, “is quite inside” from the international boundary and from the LAC “the limit of patrolling is even further inside”. About 972 sq km between the Line of Patrolling and LAC, he stated, is under PLA’s control for “more than 10 to 15 years.”
However, media reports stated that this year the PLA started blocking Indian troops at the Bottleneck or Y-junction. The Bottleneck provides connectivity to the plains and is about 7 kilometers from the Indian Army base at Burtse. It opens two roads, one towards PP10 following Raki Nala and another PP13 along Jiwan Nala.
For the last five months, PLA has been blocking Indian troops at the bottleneck to patrol these points. “He (PLA) has not come and permanently sat down at Bottleneck. Whenever we go, he comes and blocks us… blocking each other, a game that has been going on in a number of areas.
We have not lost access. If we want, we can go tomorrow also. But I (Indian Army) do not want to create another flashpoint right now,” the officer told Indian Express. He added that China claims the west of Bottleneck, around 2 km inward of Burtse where India has a base and is trying to press on the 1959 claim line although Indian troops have stopped them.
India and China have stationed thousands of troops and heavy artillery along the LAC. Almost all of the LAC is now susceptible to hostilities by the two nuclear-armed countries. “India could be playing into the hands of China by trying to delink Depsang from friction points to the south and allowing the PLA to get away with what it wants,” another officer told TOI.
The PLA activity in Depsang plains invokes the memories of the 1962 war when the Chinese occupied all of the Despang plains. More recently, in April 2013, the PLA crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the plains to pitched tents on the Indian side for about 21 days until the pullback. The standoff was resolved using military and diplomatic channels and the status quo was restored.