In a series of protests over the past few weeks, Beijing has complained that the Indian Army was resorting to aggressive patrols – coming too close to the Chinese boats and engaging them.
Besides handing over protest notes at the border personnel meeting, the Chinese have also conveyed the message at diplomatic level.
The Chinese protests emanated following their assessment that the Indian Army’s newly-acquired American patrol boats have considerably reduced their tactical advantage on the strategic lake, located at 14,500ft in Ladakh, official sources said.
The 135km-long Pangong Tso Lake, which is nestled between India and China, had previously become a playing field for the Chinese PLA’s dominance on the waterways.
It became a potential crisis point in 1999 when Beijing built a five-km permanent track into the Indian territory along the lake, as India was engaged with Pakistan in the Kargil war.
But now the sleek high-speed patrol boats from the US have become an irritant for China. More than a dozen boats procured by the Indian Army have been deployed on the lake, one third of whose area falls in India and the remaining portion in China.
The vessels, measuring 37ft long and 10ft wide, have a speed of 40 knots and come with GPS and night vision devices. Equipped with machine guns, the new Indian boats can carry 10 soldiers at a time.
Earlier, the Indian Army operated close to a dozen vintage boats that were no match to the superior Chinese patrol boats. The Indian patrols were chased away by their better-equipped Chinese counterparts.
In 2000, the Chinese had rammed into Indian patrol boats in the area and over 20 Chinese boats had made a 10km deep incursion on the Indian side of the lake in April this year.
China had a stronger military presence on the lake, and continued with its aggressive patrolling to stake a claim on the water body.
The Chinese operate close to 22 armed patrol boats – mostly smaller high-speed vessels with capacity for five to seven soldiers – on the lake. But the Indian response is now changing the rules of the game. The sources said the Chinese are irked by the fact that Indian patrols are now giving a fitting response to them by catching up with the Chinese boats if they enter the Indian side.
Although the change in approach is localised, it marks a shift in India’s approach, which has traditionally been a cautious one when it came to the eastern neighbour.
New Delhi has earlier buckled down on many instances under the Chinese pressure on the 4,057-km long Line of Actual Control (LAC).