Galwan Face-off: Satellite Images show Chinese activity
Satellite imagery probing shows a slightly different picture than the many outrageous claims that have been coming out. Allegedly, thousands of Chinese soldiers have entered the India-controlled region of LAC and have encamped the area.
Galwan Face-off: Satellite Images show Chinese activity
The recent tensions between India and China that led to the loss of lives of more than 20 soldiers have created a new uprising globally. Data suggests that this has been the second-largest loss of life after the 1967 battle where hundreds of people had died. This not only shows that there are tensions at the moment, but it is also a representation of the strains that were being built along the Line of Actual Control since the beginning of May.
Satellite imagery probing shows a slightly different picture than the many outrageous claims that have been coming out. Allegedly, thousands of Chinese soldiers have entered the India-controlled region of LAC and have encamped the area. These images also show that this unrest could cause a threat to the pace in the western border of India and China. This probing also shows that the Chinese Army has been coming into India’s territory on their regular patrolling duties, but this movement is temporary.
While the details of the event are still blurry and flooded with many allegations and theories, the primary cause of casualties seems to be falling from steep ridgelines during fistfights, and not due to ammunition. The small region which is at the core of this dispute is along the LAC and probably houses 50 Chinese troops.
The Centres of neither of the countries consider the loosely decided LAC to be an absolute border. Those territories were divided almost six decades ago when China withdrew from a lot of its captured Himalayan territory. With every issue in the Indian subcontinent becoming political propaganda, it is difficult to see through the clutter and know factual information. While the Indian government is gradually revealing information as necessary, many media organisations have been reaching out to Indian Army officers and blowing things out of proportion and creating further divide and conflict. These claims are not only vague and untrue, but they are also extreme to an extent. Many media houses have reported that more than 10,000 soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army have come into India’s undisputed territory.
While the reality is not as dramatic as it seems to be, it is an issue that questions and threatens the status quo, which might lead to an escalation of dispute in the coming time.
Data suggests that there are a few primary areas where Indo-China disputes can and might occur. These hotspots have been identified as Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Prades, and Doklam (this is where a skirmish of 2017 took place). Looking at the map below, we can see that military buildup and backup has been in place at three main regions. The Galwan River Valley, Hot Springs, and Pangong Tso have been regions where militaries from both countries have been setting up alert bases and settlements for border control. Hot Springs is also said to be the region where the Chinese army has often entered into Indian territory.
One of the major hotspots at the moment is the Galwan River Valley region, where the Chinese Army has cropped up and established settlement only very recently. Before May, PLA did not have settlements in the region, although China has control over quite a bit of the area. Once the Indian army establishments were put in place, China reciprocated by stationing almost a thousand soldiers in the region and subsequently claiming the entire Galwan River Valley region.
One of the key positions that were highlighted by media was Patrol Point 14. It is an area where India and China have mutually decided to dismantle troops to defuse the tensions between the countries. It is said that this is the move that sparked the clash between countries that resulted in over 20 casualties.
The image below shows the disposition of troops and forces in this region.
One of the reasons China has advanced into the Galwan River Valley region is that it provides a bird’s eye view of the region. It is a great strategic vantage point to observe India’s supply route and the world’s highest-altitude airfield, Daulat Beg Oldi. This strategic point enables PLA to monitor almost all movement of traffic on India’s side of the border on the Darbuk–Shyok–Daulat Beg Oldie road, which edges the LAC. India has also built more military bases in proximity to this road and an indirect slanting view of the Galwan and Shyok valleys is shown in the image below.
Satellite imagery from Planet Maps from 16th June showed that both Indian and Chinese troops have been dismantled after the deadly attacks and a temporary position has been set up by India within 50 Metres of the LAC, probably as a casualty collection point. There were almost a hundred trucks spotted on China’s side of the border in the same region. It is unclear whether they are dismantling positions or reinforcing their troops.
Hot Springs and Pangong Tso, which lie to the south of Galwan River Valley have been the two other hotspots. In Pangong Tso, there has been a military buildup towards the LAC since 2019 when the road development started to small Chinese villages. The closest China has come to the LAC in this area is 1.8 Kilometres away from the Line.
Satellite images from maps at the end of May show that there has been significant development close to the borders. The image below shows that there are dirt tracks that cross Indian territories which shows that the People’s Liberation Army routinely crosses into India.
To respond, India has started building a position on their side of the territory to stop further intrusion from the Chinese Army into India.
There has been the significant dismantling of these troops in these areas and no battles have been reported. There has been successful disengagement of both countries. Now, the closest of China’s position to the Indian Army is greater than the Galwan River Valley.
The third region of strain is the Pangong Tso, a lake sprawling over 100 kilometers being divided by the Indo-China border. There has been a dispute of almost 30 kilometers in the location of the border, causing unrest in the region between countries.
While China claims territory up to a peninsula called finger 2, India claims territory up to a peninsula called finger 8.
There has been a constant dispute where India has permanently held the position of disputed areas between finger 3 and 4 for over a decade and china had kept its forces stationed outside of this disputed territory until May when they they became a majority in this region of dispute. China has practically built more than 500 stations, boatsheds, and is in the swing of more construction in the area almost 20 kilometres into the disputed region. The provocative construction in this region shows different forward positions being built here. Many of which lay on the ridgeline of the Indo-China patrol region.
While both sides have engaged in creating protection and border security, the situation remains volatile and there always remains a possibility of escalation of the dispute. The situation that has arisen this week should awaken policymakers that should engage more actively in the dissolution of disputes as both counties are nuclear powered and an escalation in the conflict could lead to a loss of more life and property.