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China-India border dispute

Was China’s military drill in Tibet really just an exercise in logistics?

Thousands of tonnes of equipment have been moved into the region since the start of a border dispute with India

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 6:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 6:32pm

China has moved tens of thousands of tonnes of military vehicles and equipment into Tibet since it became locked in a border dispute with India, according to state media.

The vast haul was transported to a region south of the Kunlun Mountains in northern Tibet by the Western Theatre Command – which oversees the restive regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, and handles border issues with India – the PLA Daily, the official mouthpiece of China’s military reported.

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The project took place late last month and involved hardware being moved simultaneously by road and rail from across the entire region, the report said.

On Monday, state broadcaster CCTV reported that Chinese troops had taken part in a military exercise using live ammunition on the Tibetan plateau. The location was not far from where Chinese and Indian forces remain locked in a stand-off over a disputed border area at the tri-junction with Bhutan.

The PLA Daily report did not say whether the movement of the military equipment was to support the exercise or for other reasons.

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Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military commentator, suggested it was most likely related to the stand-off and could have been designed to bring India to the negotiating table.

“Diplomatic talks must be backed by military preparation,” he said.

Another observer told the South China Morning Post earlier that the show of strength was likely a warning to India.

“The PLA wanted to demonstrate it could easily overpower its Indian counterparts,” said Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming.

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Wang Dehua, an expert on South Asia studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the scale of the troop and equipment movement showed how much easier it now was for China to defend its western borders.

“Military operations are all about logistics,” he said. “Now there is much better logistics support to the Tibet region.”

In a reference to a comment made by India’s defence minister Arun Jaitley that “this is not India in 1962”, Wang added that “China is also different from [how it was in] 1962”.

Despite China’s military superiority in the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, logistics difficulties contributed to it pulling back and declaring a unilateral ceasefire.

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Now, however, the military can “easily transport troops and supplies to the frontline, thanks to the much improved infrastructure including the Qinghai-Tibet railway and other new roads connecting the plateau to the rest part of China”, Wang said.