The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Monday carried out an integrated ground-air combat military drill on the Tibetan plateau, the fourth such exercise held by the Chinese military in Tibet since March to test its capabilities in the region’s challenging high-altitude terrain.

A division of the PLA Air Force and a mountain infantry brigade under the Tibet Military Command, which is under the PLA’s Chengdu Military Region, carried out a joint drill which involved J-11 fighter jets and armed helicopters, the official PLA Daily reported. The report said they carried out “pinpoint strikes” at various ground targets against a “defensive enemy”.

The newspaper said the drills were part of recent plans by the Chengdu Military Region — one of seven military administrative districts — to “continuously make innovations in the plateau training modes”.

The PLA has held four major drills in the Tibetan plateau since March, carried out by the Chengdu Military Region’s Tibet Military Command, which is primarily tasked with guarding the eastern and middle sections of disputed border with India, and the Lanzhou Military Region in Xinjiang.

In early July, the Lanzhou Military Region was reported to have carried out a high-altitude drill with a new surface-to-air missile on the Tibetan plateau. This followed live-fire drills for anti-tank units in June and a ground attack training drill for the PLA Air Force’s J-10 fighters in March. Indian strategic analysts have seen the spate of military drills as a move to test capabilities as a possible response to recent Indian plans to boost deployments in border areas.

Defence ties between India and China have improved in recent months, following a year-long suspension in 2010 after the PLA refused to host the then head of the Northern Command, Lieutenant General B.S. Jaswal, on the grounds that he was serving in the “sensitive” region of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Chengdu Military Region last month hosted a military delegation from India on a rare visit to Tibet — the PLA has, in the past, only hosted Indian delegations in other military regions viewed as less sensitive. The delegation visited a military facility near Lhasa.

India and China are in talks to finalise the visit of Defence Minister Liang Guanglie to New Delhi, likely to take place in September.

Chinese officials have expressed their keenness for General Liang to visit before his scheduled retirement at the 18th Party Congress, expected to take place in October or November, which will usher in new leadership across various levels of the Communist Party and the PLA.

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