Construction activity surfaced on the Indian and Chinese sides of a disputed border in the Karakoram Mountains a week after a deadly clash in the region left 20 soldiers dead, Indian soldiers said.
Images released this week by Maxar, a Colorado-based satellite imagery company, show new construction activity along the Galwan River valley, even as Chinese and Indian diplomats said military commanders had agreed to disengage from an impasse there.
The images seemed to show that the Indians had built a wall on their side and that the Chinese had enlarged an outpost camp at the end of a long road connected to the Chinese military bases further from the ill-defined border, according to the experts .
Contradictions in words and deeds have shown the fragility of an agreement after the worst violence since the Asian giants went to war in 1962 for their competing claims on the arid border region, experts said.
China said India first changed the status quo last August when it divided the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal territories – the territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the territory Ladakh, parts of which are disputed by China.
The new maps released by India following the move drew criticism from Beijing for showing Aksai Chin – an area administered by China but contested by India – as part of Ladakh.
Indian authorities have said that the deadlock that culminated in this month’s deadly clash in the Galwan Valley, which is part of a stretch of the actual control line 3380 kilometers (2100 miles) apart, established after the 1962 war, began in early May. when large contingents of Chinese soldiers entered deep inside Indian-controlled territory at three locations in Ladakh, erecting tents.
After some skirmishes in May, Indian and Chinese commanders met on June 6 to reach an agreement that would reduce tensions.
The two sides agreed to build observation posts on either side of the mouth of the Galwan River, Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong told the Press Trust of India news agency on Tuesday.
Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said at the June 6 meeting “the two sides agreed to respect and respect the LAC and not to undertake any activity to change the status quo” , but did not say whether they had accepted observation posts.
Around midnight June 15, soldiers attacked each other with stones, clubs and their fists in the Galwan Valley, the deadliest violence between the two countries in 45 years.
Indian security officials said the deaths were due to serious injuries and exposure to freezing temperatures. China has not said whether it suffered casualties in the clash.
India and China have blamed each other for the melee and have staked new allegations about the area where it occurred.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday that the confrontation had taken place on the Chinese side of the effective line of control and that Indian forces had entered Chinese territory illegally.
“The responsibility (for the incident) belongs absolutely not to the Chinese side,” said Zhao.
But Srivastava said Thursday that China had provoked the fight when its soldiers “sought to erect structures just in front of the LAC” on the Indian side. He said Indian soldiers foiled these attempts.
However, a sequence of Maxar images of the river bend where the clash occurred in the weeks before and after the clash showed that construction had spread in the Galwan Valley towards the actual control line from Chinese bases, said Maxar vice president Steve Wood.
Wood said that since May 22, satellite images showed “convoy after convoy of heavy trucks, excavators, bulldozers and some military armored equipment” traveling along the Galwan Valley towards the disputed border.
Before and after the fatal shock, China was moving construction equipment, soldiers and military equipment to the LAC, said Chris Biggers, senior analyst with the geospatial intelligence company HawkEye 360.
“The Chinese were obviously pushing towards the junction and what they perceive as their claim line. They have now built a post and a track reinforcing their claim, thereby changing the status quo in the region, ”he said.
At this junction, the Galwan River turns west toward an important supply route for a key Indian airfield. Biggers said satellite imagery shows that India has built a stone wall there in front of the new Chinese post, with a set of layered barriers draped with camouflage nets and tarpaulins that “could also function as positions of fight ”.
“We also see some activity on the road, with trucks moving back and forth as well as troops marching in formation along the new track,” said Biggers.