China-India border dispute: PLA flexes military muscle with live-fire drill in Tibet

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The People’s Daily – the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party published the clip on its website, together with details about the exercises, delivering a pointed reminder to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the firepower at China’s disposal. It comes weeks after deadly clashes in the Galwan valley of the disputed Ladakh region resulted in the deaths of at least 23 Indian soldiers, and an unspecified number of Chinese ones, in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

The drills were conducted at an altitude of 4,600 metres, although Beijing did not confirm the precise location.

Footage shows target drones being shot down with surface-to-air missiles.

Rear command posts, missile launchers and communication hubs belonging to a notional enemy were knocked out with guided bombs.

Artillery on display includes a vehicle-mounted version of the HJ-10 anti-tank missile system, 155mm and 122mm calibre vehicle-mounted howitzers, and HQ-16 air defence missiles.

The People’s Daily report stated: “The exercise tested the coordinated strike capability of multiple units and put new equipment to the test in a combat situation.”

A statement carried on the website of the PLA itself added: “China’s Tibet military command recently conducted artillery exercises in high-altitude areas to test the army’s long-range precision strikes and fire-assault capabilities in plateau environments, said Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, on Thursday.

“Such exercises are part of the annual training plan and target no particular country, Ren said in response to a question at a regular press conference.”

Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based military expert, told the South China Morning Post: “They’re making the debut there as a demonstration of power.”

Speaking last month, Frank O’Donnell, a Nonresident Fellow in the South Asia Program at the US-based Stimson Center, told China appeared to be “altering the facts on the ground” in terms of what the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which divides China and India would look like in the future.

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He explained: “The simultaneous withdrawals of Chinese and Indian forces of a distance of 1-2km each at their points of contention looks, on its surface, to be what an equitable and fair de-escalation would look like.

“However, this is not the case when China has in fact intruded up to 8km in some areas into Indian territory.

“This means that a mutual withdrawal of 2km means that China will withdraw to only occupying 6km of Indian territory within that area, whereas India has to withdraw further back within its own territory.

“There is also a strong likelihood that the withdrawals will halt at a point where China can retain the geographical advantages it has gained over India in the overall incursion, such as being able to cut Indian forces off from each other (as currently in Depsang Plains, for example), and retain the high ground captured in the Galwan Valley that enables it to overlook and potentially cut off the critical Indian Daulat Beg Oldi-Darbuk-Shyok supply road.”

Mr O’Donnell also suggested Mr Modi’s “mixed messages” as to whether there had been any actual incursion into India’s territory had caused a “fog of confusion”.

He added: “The first line of messaging – that there is no intrusion – will be taken by Beijing and spotlighted by its diplomats as proof that India accepts the Chinese claim.

“Even if the Chinese forces do in fact withdraw all the way back across Ladakh to their positions prior to the incursions in May – which is unlikely – then it is likely they will retain much more sizeable permanent forces in the area to pose a long-term threat to the Indian position here.

“However, the most likely outcome at this stage is that the Indian government will end up accepting some form of permanent advanced Chinese position within its own territory, while seeking to present this as a win to the Indian public as there were, firstly, mutual withdrawals and, secondly, by generating a fog of confusion for the Indian public about where the LAC actually is.”

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