After consolidating gains at Galwan Valley, Hot Springs, Pangong lake and Naku La, Chinese build-up has been seen in the Depsang Plains in the sub-sector north and Demchok in the south. The Chinese objective is to stretch the Indian army to tire them out by opening new sectors. First, let us have a look at the 972 square-kilometre Depsang Plains, located at 16000 feet above sea level, north of Galwan Valley and 18 kilometres northeast of Murgo village.

During the 1962 war, the plains were occupied by Chinese army and in 2013, Chinese troops crossed 15 to 18 kilometres inside once again, and occupied it for the second time for almost one month. The Chinese troops blocked the movement of Indian troops to various patrol points and also occupied Raki Nala, 30 kilometres southeast of Daulat Beg Oldi and established a proper camp. In September 2015, a Chinese patrol was also reported one and half kilometres short of Burtse, 15 kilometres west of Raki Nala.

The Depsang Plains are part of sub-sector north and of great significance because of the 255-kilometre road, called Darbuk-Shyok-Murgo-Daulat Beg Oldi, which runs through the area close to Karakoram Pass. The road traverses at an altitude of 14000 feet and was constructed for faster deployment of the Indian army in the region. India controls the western portion of the plains as a part of Ladakh, Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and the eastern portion is now part of Aksai Chin under Chinese control. Recently, China has deployed its troops to an area known as the ‘Y’ junction or bottleneck. The Y Junction is located 18 kilometres on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and 25 kilometres southeast of a strategic landing strip of Daulat Beg Oldi at 16700 feet.

However, according to the Chinese claim, the line lies 5 kilometres further west. The bottleneck is located 7 kilometres northeast of Burste village. Burste is located on Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi Road and also has an Indian army post. Occupation of the Y Junction will also deny Indian access to Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip and Siachen. China can now attempt to capture Sasser La (20000 feet) west of Depsang Plains. It will also facilitate opening a route to Sasoma Road to Siachen, which becomes more accessible beyond the Y Junction. India is now on the defensive, their troops have been directed not to patrol beyond the Y Junction. The Chinese are building up pressure from the Y Junction, thus blocking Indian patrol to points 10, 11A, 12 and 13. According to Indian defence analysts, if the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) manages to link up from patrol point 10 to 13, it will easily shift the so-called LAC further west. With this development now, India cannot access hundreds of square-kilometres it claimed and patrolled. The plains are considered suitable for the use of armour, and the first armour regiment inducted in this area was in 2014.

Recently, India has inducted three additional divisions with additional armour and artillery regiments in eastern Ladakh. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has carried out sorties/missions in the area as a show of force by employing Sukhoi aircrafts and Apache helicopters. Additional battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Ladakh Scouts have also been deployed to beef up defences. The other Chinese build-up has been reported in the Demchok sector in south Ladakh (IOK) where PLA has crossed into the Indian-controlled area. Demchok is the last village of tehsil Nyoma of Ladakh in southeast Ladakh and Umling Pass (19300 feet) connects Demchok with Leh. The village has a big Indian military camp and is located closer to the Chinese village of Jaggang.

In this region too, the Chinese have developed proper infrastructures to support its troops operating in the area. In 2018, Chinese troops moved into the Indian-controlled side of the LAC and several such incidents were witnessed in the past as well. Before 2008, there was no PLA post in Demchok, as patrolling was carried out from Chagchik post in the east, 45 kilometres from Demchok. India has reportedly deployed two mechanised divisions in the region. A combined Chinese armour brigade has been reported opposite Demchok.

With recent developments, the Chinese are now not only threatening the road to Daulat Beg Oldi but also its airstrip. The Chinese have established themselves one-and-a-half kilometres away from the strategic road from where they can bring effective small arms and artillery fire. According to Lt Gen Panag, retired former GOC northern command, China is already inside Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake, Hot Springs, Demchok and fingers 4 to 8, and 40 kilometres of Indian territory in IOK has been captured by PLA. According to Ajay Shukla, PLA has captured more than 60 square kilometres of Indian-patrolled territory in Ladakh (IOK) and they have also blocked Indian army patrols from patrol points 14, 16, 18 and 19.

The Chinese are in an advantageous position in the Ladakh region because of its developed infrastructure. The China National Highway G219 passes through Aksai Chin, the construction of which started in 1951 and was completed in 1957. Initially, it was 100 kilometres away from the so-called LAC. The Chinese addressed the issue by constructing six finger-like roads and linking them with the entire region (Aksai Chin). With these roads, China can reinforce their positions all along Ladakh with speed. India will make all-out efforts to disrupt this highway, either by air or by dropping special forces. The PLA is encircling Indian army positions in eastern Ladakh, from Galwan to Demchok and is controlling the strategic road to Daulat Beg Oldi. Apparently, India has now succumbed to Chinese pressure and they (China) can use their ground gains and manoeuvres as leverage and a bargaining chip. At the same time, India will allow China to retain the territory they have occupied.