China prepared for spike in border tensions with India: US defence dept report

Published on Nov 04, 2021 01:38 PM IST

The annual report prepared for the US Congress on military and security developments related to China has a special section on the India-China standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that began in May 2020

A view of the Sela tunnel under construction near Sela Pass, which will lead to Tawang near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in India's Arunachal Pradesh. China’s PLA is fully prepared for a spike in border tensions with India, a US defence department report has said. (AFP/File)
A view of the Sela tunnel under construction near Sela Pass, which will lead to Tawang near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in India's Arunachal Pradesh. China’s PLA is fully prepared for a spike in border tensions with India, a US defence department report has said. (AFP/File)

The Chinese army’s acceleration of its training and fielding of heavy military equipment has prepared it for any escalation of border tensions with India and to support a “Taiwan contingency”, according to a new US defence department report.

The annual report prepared for the US Congress on military and security developments related to China has a special section on the India-China standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that began in May 2020 and has taken bilateral relations to an all-time low.

The report said that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, border clashes with India and other significant events in 2020, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “accelerated its training and fielding of equipment from the already fast pace of recent years”.

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This equipment fielding during 2020 “focused on improving mobile firepower and mobility with the PCL-171 120mm self-propelled howitzer and the PCL-181 155mm self-propelled howitzer, as well as field testing of the Z-8L heavy-lift transport helicopter”. PLA units also conducted “extensive combined arms and joint training throughout 2020”.

The report said, “Significant training likely prepared the [PLA] for any escalation of border tensions with India, as well as preparing to support a Taiwan contingency.”

The “Taiwan contingency” was a reference to China’s long-standing plan to unify the island with the mainland.

The PLA, which has about 975,000 active duty personnel in combat units, strove to increase the realism of its training”, and its units conducted “robust combined-arms training and extensive joint training exercises” with other services.

“In 2020, the [PLA] highlighted training for... potential contingencies in high-elevation regions (suggesting a possible focus on India given border clashes in 2020) and projecting forces across the Taiwan Strait,” the report said.

There was also a significant PLA “force build-up and establishment or enforcement of forward positions” along the LAC during 2020, and these “tensions likely provided the [PLA] with valuable real-world operational and tactical experience”, the report said.

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At the height of the LAC standoff in 2020, the PLA installed a fibre optic network in remote areas of the western Himalayas to provide faster communications and increased protection from foreign interception.

The PLA field commanders now “view near real-time ISR and situational data as well as redundant and reliable communications as essential to streamlining decision making processes and shortening response timelines”, according to the report.

The PLA also noted progress in “increasing its warfighting readiness” and Communist Party publications “often state that preparing for winning wars is the logical starting point of the PLA’s reforms”.

The party publications also praised the PLA for strengthening troop training and preparations, while citing “improvements in key competencies such as mobilising to support China’s responses to the Covid-19 outbreak and floods in central China, and successes in military-civil fusion, particularly in delivering logistics during mobilisation and deterrence exercises along the Indian border in 2020”.

The report noted that diplomatic efforts by India and China to resolve the standoff “are making slow progress as both sides resist losing perceived advantages on the border”.

The two sides withdrew frontline forces from the north and south banks of Pangong Lake in February and from Gogra in August, they have been unable to make headway on disengagement at other friction points despite numerous rounds of diplomatic and military talks.

After the face-off began in May 2020, China and Indian deployed almost 50,000 troops each in Ladakh sector of the LAC. “The PRC (China) blamed the standoff on Indian infrastructure construction, which it perceived to encroach on PRC territory, while India accused the PRC of launching aggressive incursions into India’s territory,” the report said.

In June last year, troops from the two sides clashed in Galwan Valley, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops. This incident was the deadliest clash between the two sides in 45 years. In addition, on September 8, 2020, a PLA patrol fired warning shots at an Indian patrol near Pangong Lake – the first shots fired along the LAC in decades.

The report noted that Chinese had “sought to downplay the severity of the crisis, emphasising Beijing’s intent to preserve border stability and prevent the standoff from harming other areas of its bilateral relationship with India”.

It added, “The PRC seeks to prevent border tensions from causing India to partner more closely with the United States. PRC officials have warned US officials to not interfere with the PRC’s relationship with India.”

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