China has elevated the status of its Tibet Military Command as part of preparations for a possible conflict with India, placing the formation under the control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) so that it can take on “more combat assignments”, state media reported on Friday.
Placing the Tibet command directly under the PLA ground forces suggests the formation might “undertake some kind of military combat mission in the future”, a source told the Global Times, a tabloid closely linked to the Communist Party of China‘s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.
“The Tibet Military Command bears great responsibility to prepare for possible conflicts between China and India, and currently it is difficult to secure all the military resources they need,” Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the newspaper.
The Global Times noted that border disputes between China and India “have not been completely resolved”.
“The elevation of the authority level is not only an improvement for the troops’ designation, but also an expansion of their function and mission,” Zhao Zhong, deputy director of the Political Work Department of the Tibet Military Command, was quoted as saying by China Youth Daily.
The formation in Tibet is currently under China’s Western Theatre Command, with its headquarters at Chengdu in Sichuan Province. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar visited the Western Theatre Command when he visited China last month.
After recent military reforms, most provincial military commands are under the control of the new National Defense Mobilisation Department of the Central Military Commission under the chairmanship of President Xi Jinping, and their importance will be diminished, the source said. But the Tibet Military Command still holds a “very important position” and its elevation will place it “one level higher” than its counterparts in other provinces, the state media reported.
“The promotion shows China is paying great attention to the Tibet Military Command, which will significantly improve the command’s ability to manage and control the region’s military resources, as well as provide better preparation for combat,” Song said.
Military action under the Tibet command requires “specialist mountain skills and long-range capabilities, which need the deployment of special military resources”, Song added.
The elevation of the command reflects the attention placed by China on defending its southwestern borders. The higher the authority level, the more military resources the command can mobilise, he said.
India and China share a nearly 4,000-km disputed border and fought a brief but bloody war in 1962 over it. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) has mostly been quiet since, though the two armies have been involved in stand-offs caused by differing perceptions of the LAC.
In April, defence minister Chang Wanquan said China had reacted positively to setting up a military hotline with India on border security after talks with Parrikar in Beijing.