PLA live-fire drills warning to India on borders: experts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 November, 2010, 12:00am

The People's Liberation Army's first live-fire drills involving both air and land forces on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau were a warning to India not to fish in disputed waters while China is busy dealing with issues in the South and East China seas, military analysts said.

The official PLA Pictorial reported on Wednesday that the drills had taken place for the first time but did not give details about dates and location.

Military analyst Antony Wong Dong, president of the Macau-based International Military Association, said advanced weaponry involved in the drills included the new generation fighter jet Jian-11; the Hongqi-9 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles; and the 96-B tanks.

According to the PLA Pictorial, drill results showed participants had overcome hardships related to the high altitude, low oxygen and extreme cold.Wong said the PLA had been testing weapons and training soldiers on the plateau for a long while, but now was a good time to show a large-scale result because Beijing had found India becoming more active along its borders with China.

India has been quietly increasing the number of troops along its borders with southern Tibet from about 20,000 since August.

Last month the Indian Air Force revealed it would soon build a new air base at Nyoma, in Kashmir's Ladakh region, for Indian fighter jets to conduct sorties to nearby border posts.

Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military expert, said the drills had been a reaction to India's decision to increase its troops on its borders with China.

'First, the PLA wanted to show its muscle to India, that the PLA is capable of defending its territory in its southwest region even though the situation in the South and East China seas is not very good now,' Ni said.

He was referring to a recent series of joint military drills between the United States and South Korea off the Korea Peninsula as well as the Sino-Japanese diplomatic row over disputed islets in the East China Sea.

'In fact, the PLA's drill in Tibet could be like killing two birds with one stone,' Ni said.

'The drills also serve as a warning to pro-Tibet independence groups at home or overseas that the PLA is capable of dealing with any unrest on the plateau.'

But Xu Guangyu , a senior researcher for the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association in Beijing, said the Tibet drills had mainly been aimed at addressing the PLA's weaknesses.

'The success of the drill shows the PLA's self-defence capability covers every corner of the Chinese territory,' he said.

Sujit Dutta, professor at New Delhi's Jamia Millia University, said the Chinese drills in Tibet dramatically changed the security and diplomatic dynamics in the region.

'China has raised its military profile aggressively with its latest military exercises in Tibet, which were unprecedented in scale in terms of the nature of weapons deployed and its intended target - India.'

Compared to China's steady military build-up in Tibet over the past two decades, India's recent decision to improve some of its infrastructure on its northern front has been slow, hesitant and, according to many, an inadequate response, Dutta said.

Beijing also recently expanded its rail web to connect Tibet with the rest of the mainland, which could help the PLA move its troops and military hardware closer to the Indian border more easily, he added.

On the official front, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said last week both sides would look for 'practical, pragmatic' measures to end border disputes which took the two countries to war in 1962.

Singh, who met Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday at a regional summit in Hanoi, also said the two Asian giants must ensure 'peace and tranquillity' on their militarised border.