Chi­nese Mil­i­tary Con­tin­ues De­vel­op­ing High-altitude West­ern Fron­tier

The Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment pro­mul­gated the ‘Great West­ern Devel­op­ment’ strat­egy in 1999, and since then has sys­tem­at­i­cally in­vested heav­ily on the lo­gis­tics and in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment all through west­ern China

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - DR MONIKA CHAN­SO­RIA Dr Monika Chan­so­ria is a Se­nior Fel­low at the Cen­tre for Land War­fare Stud­ies, New Delhi, and a colum­nist on for­eign pol­icy and strate­gic af­fairs for The Sun­day Guardian news­pa­per.

The Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment pro­mul­gated the ‘Great West­ern Devel­op­ment’ strat­egy in 1999, and since then has sys­tem­at­i­cally in­vested heav­ily on the lo­gis­tics and in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment all through west­ern China

Dr Monika Chan­so­ria

THE POS­TUR­ING OF CHINA’S Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) in the bor­der re­gions shared with In­dia sur­fac­ing in the back­drop of its shift­ing strat­egy from con­ti­nen­tal to pe­riph­eral de­fence tends to un­der­line the Chi­nese mil­i­tary’s doc­tri­nal in­tent of re­solv­ing to “fight and win lo­cal wars on its bor­ders.” What ap­pears to emerge is that the Chi­nese lead­er­ship un­der Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is con­tin­u­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of en­sur­ing that the west­ern devel­op­ment strat­egy con­tin­ues, which fur­ther would guar­an­tee its firm con­trol over re­gions in west­ern China. Upon his re­turn from In­dia in Septem­ber 2014, Xi was quoted as say­ing by the state-run Xin­hua news agency, “Head­quar­ters of all Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army forces should im­prove their com­bat readi­ness and sharpen their abil­ity to win a re­gional war in the age of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.” Be­sides, a se­nior of­fi­cer with the PLA’s Gen­eral Staff Head­quar­ters, Wu Xi­hua, af­firmed ear­lier at a press con­fer­ence in Bei­jing that the ba­sic duty of the armed forces is to fight wars, while its mission in times of peace is to pre­pare for war.

In a se­ries of ca­pa­bil­ity-en­hanc­ing ini­tia­tives, the lat­est one came in the form of China up­grad­ing the sta­tus of Ma­jor Gen­eral Tang Xiao, the po­lit­i­cal com­mis­sar of the Ti­bet Armed Po­lice Corps, to that of be­com­ing head of a Corps-size mil­i­tary body. What is note­wor­thy is while that the Ti­bet Corps it­self has not been up­graded, the el­e­va­tion of the Po­lice Corps, has been hailed as a ma­jor de­ci­sion “based on the spe­cial en­vi­ron­ment and strate­gic po­si­tion of the Ti­bet Armed Po­lice”, none less than by Niu Zhizhong, Chief of Staff of the Armed Po­lice of Ti­bet.

Be­fore the set­ting in of win­ter in Ti­bet, trans­porta­tion reg­i­ments of the Qing­haiTi­bet Corps of the PLA un­der­took mas­sive cargo trans­porta­tion in Oc­to­ber 2014 for the PLA troops sta­tioned here. Chi­nese state-con­trolled me­dia re­ported a mo­tor­cade of a truck trans­porta­tion reg­i­ment parked for be­ing loaded with car­goes at a troop’s ware­house near the Na­chi­tai army ser­vice sta­tion, cross­ing the Tuo­tuo River and the Tang­gula Moun­tains Pass on the Qing­hai-Ti­bet High­way in the Anduo County, south-west of the Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion. Th­ese ef­forts for sure shall ac­cen­tu­ate the en­hanced abil­ity of the PLA to­wards be­com­ing a more mo­bile and bet­ter-equipped fight­ing force, which can be de­ployed faster and sus­tained over a longer pe­riod of time across the high al­ti­tudes of the Ti­betan plateau and pro­vide all-in­clu­sive sup­port for any po­ten­tial of­fen­sive op­er­a­tion out­side of its main­land.

The Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment pro­mul­gated the “Great West­ern Devel­op­ment” strat­egy in 1999, and since then has sys­tem­at­i­cally in­vested heav­ily on the lo­gis­tics and in­fra- struc­ture devel­op­ment all through west­ern China. From a mil­i­tary per­spec­tive, this in­fra­struc­ture and lo­gis­tics build-up shall dou­ble up crit­i­cally as base sup­port for the PLA and be vi­tal in im­prov­ing the rapid de­ploy­ment ca­pa­bil­ity of China’s in­te­grated forces, par­tic­u­larly the abil­ity to swiftly ma­noeu­vre heavy equip­ment to and from the re­gion.

Xu Qil­iang, Vice Chair­man of the Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion (CMC)—the high­est state mil­i­tary or­gan com­mand­ing China’s en­tire armed forces, has averred that the mil­i­tary should pri­ori­tise ad­dress­ing is­sues that af­fect their most im­me­di­ate in­ter­ests. While speak­ing at a meet­ing in Bei­jing de­voted to ad­dress­ing the cause of bol­ster­ing the PLA’s role in the devel­op­ment of China’s west, Xu “or­dered the mil­i­tary to make ut­most ef­forts to main­tain bor­der se­cu­rity, en­hance sol­i­dar­ity be­tween the mil­i­tary, lo­cal gov­ern­ments and the public, as well as to up­hold eth­nic sol­i­dar­ity.” In this ref­er­ence, Xu Qil­iang’s com­ment that “the pros­per­ity, devel­op­ment and sta­bil­ity of west­ern re­gions are of strate­gic im­por­tance to na­tional se­cu­rity and devel­op­ment” only tends to re­gur­gi­tate that thought. The strat­egy to ac­cen­tu­ate devel­op­ment of China’s west­ern fron­tier, which cru­cially in­cludes the Ti­betan Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, has been well con­ceived and ex­e­cuted. To­day, the 13th and 14th com­bined Corps fall­ing un­der the Chengdu Mil­i­tary Re­gion vouches PLA’s firm grip over Ti­bet. In fact, Xu Qil­iang urged the mil­i­tary to be fully aware that help­ing de­velop China’s west will boost the mil­i­tary’s ca­pac­ity to carry out di­ver­si­fied tasks. The Xi Jin­ping Ad­min­is­tra­tion fur­ther holds that fun­da­men­tally, the di­ver­si­fied em­ploy­ment of the armed forces is meant to safe­guard na­tional ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty, as well as pro­vide firm se­cu­rity guar­an­tees. The di­ver­si­fied em­ploy­ment of Chi­nese armed forces aims to con­tain crises, strengthen com­bat-readi­ness, read­ily re­spond to and res­o­lutely de­ter any provoca­tive ac­tion which un­der­mines China’s sovereignty, se­cu­rity and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and firmly safe­guard China’s core na­tional in­ter­ests.

The Chi­nese Polit­buro of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP) and the CMC have out­lined that com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness is the sole fun­da­men­tal cri­te­rion for the man­age­ment and use of mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture. Hav­ing com­pleted con­struc­tion of the fifth-gen­er­a­tion bar­racks of the Simhana Fron­tier De­fence Com­pany un­der the Xin­jiang mil­i­tary area Com­mand (MAC), the PLA ac­tiv­i­ties in the high-altitude mil­i­tary ter­rain have re­ceived a boost. Ac­cord­ing to the Hous­ing Of­fice of the PLA’s Xin­jiang MAC, the fifth-gen­er­a­tion mul­ti­func­tional bar­racks are avail­able in all fron­tier de­fence com­pa­nies with an el­e­va­tion of 3,000 me­tres and above.

Given the fact that most fron­tier de­fence com­pa­nies and sen­try posts are sta­tioned on snow-capped moun­tain­ous ter­rain in­clud­ing plateaus at al­ti­tudes of over 3,000 me­tres, the fifth-gen­er­a­tion bar­racks, cost­ing China over 14 mil­lion yuan, comes in as a crit­i­cal achieve­ment at those heights. Ear­lier, in­com­plete do­mes­tic in­stal­la­tions and lack of heat preser­va­tion in the older bar­racks posed dif­fi­cul­ties vis-à-vis cred­i­ble fron­tier de­fence. The de­ci­sion to in­vest in con­struct­ing and ren­o­vat­ing lo­gis­tics fa­cil­i­ties of high-altitude com­pa­nies in­clud­ing at Shenx­i­an­wan, be­gan way back in 2007 as per di­rec­tives of the CMC and the Gen­eral Head­quar­ters of the PLA, the Lanzhou mil­i­tary area com­mand and the Xin­jiang MAC.

More­over, the newly con­structed and com­mis­sioned bar­racks of the Biedieli fron­tier de­fence com­pany are equipped re­port­edly with “ten ma­jor sys­tems” in­clud­ing di­rect-drink­ing wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tem, so­lar-pow­ered and boiler bathing sys­tem, so­lar-pow­ered and diesel en­gine gen­er­at­ing sys­tem, boiler heat­ing and a so­lar heat­ing sys­tem. It has been re­ported by the PLA that all grass­roots com­pa­nies have been equipped with satel­lite tele­vi­sions and avail­abil­ity of In­ter­net in nearly 90 per cent of the or­ganic bat­tal­ions and com­pa­nies. That field op­er­a­tions’ living sup­port en­hances and im­proves com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness is a given, it is very cru­cial to note that the PLA has al­ready im­ple­mented the “oxy­gen-in­hal­ing project” in PLA’s plateau troop units.

The past few years have wit­nessed ex­cep­tional PLAAF ac­tiv­ity on the Qing­hai-Ti­bet plateau, with the PLAAF in the Chengdu Mil­i­tary Area Com­mand hold­ing live ammunition drills, dur­ing which it car­ried out sur­gi­cal strikes at night by testing the multi-role J-10 fighter jets, in a “first op­er­a­tion of its kind.” China’s state-con­trolled me­dia re­ported that the ground crew of the J-10 reg­i­ment fu­elled the fighters and loaded ammunition on the 3,500-me­tre­high plateau at tem­per­a­tures be­low -20 de­gree Cel­sius. The J-10 fighters at­tacked tar­gets with con­ven­tional as well as laser­guided bombs, in what could be in­ter­preted as cir­cum­spect strat­egy for air space de­nial ca­pa­bil­ity. In ad­di­tion the PLA Army has al­ready been re­hears­ing cap­ture of moun­tain passes at heights be­yond 5,000 me­tres with the help of ar­moured ve­hi­cles and air­borne troops. In fact, the Chi­nese Min­istry of De­fence de­clared this in an of­fi­cial re­port, de­scrib­ing the ex­er­cise as the “first joint ac­tual-troop drill of the PLA air and ground troops un­der in­for­ma­tion-based con­di­tions in frigid area with a high altitude”. Need­less to re­it­er­ate that the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army is pre­par­ing for a po­ten­tial con­flict sit­u­a­tion es­pe­cially in its high-altitude ar­eas, with the Mil­i­tary Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment of the PLAAF Lo­gis­tics Depart­ment over­see­ing the move­ment of “com­bat readi­ness ma­te­ri­als” to Ti­bet – re­flect­ing a grow­ing PLAAF role in main­tain­ing se­cu­rity along the Sino-In­dian bor­der in the Ti­betan area.

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