Several military commands of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including those handling the western section of the border with India and the South China Sea, have in recent days conducted a series of high-profile live-ammunition drills, according to State media reports.
The drills were held as a top official of the new PLA leadership urged the army to “boost combat preparedness” and internal discipline through a “mass line” campaign, and take place amid recent tensions along the border with India and involving maritime disputes. Over the weekend, troops of the Lanzhou Military Area Command, which holds responsibility for the Aksai Chin region and the disputed western section of the border where there has recently been a spurt in tensions over incursion incidents, conducted “an actual-troop live-ammunition drill on the [Tibetan] plateau”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
A regiment conducted a live-ammunition drill at an altitude exceeding 4,500 metres “in a bid to temper the troop’s combat capability in high-altitude regions”.
Analysts in New Delhi often see military drills as signals or responses to India’s own moves to strengthen border infrastructure. The latest round of drills takes place after a series of reports of incursion incidents along the western section of the border.
While officials attribute the incidents to differing perceptions of the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) which sees troops on both sides routinely patrolling up to their overlapping claim lines, some Indian officials say China has in recent months stepped up patrols to strengthen its claims in certain areas. This has resulted in several stand-offs, most notably at Depsang on April 15, which took three weeks to resolve and cast a shadow on the Chinese Premier’s May visit to India.
Troops in the Xinjiang military region also last week conducted live-fire drills at night, State media reported.
Separately, a fleet of the PLA Navy last week returned after conducting a 16-day training session in the West Pacific, which took place against the backdrop of tensions with Japan over disputed East China Sea islands.
The drill involved “comprehensive offense and defense exercises, ship-helicopter coalition antisubmarine exercises, and ship-helicopter cooperative escort drills, as well as anti-terrorism and anti-piracy drills”, Xinhua reported.
The exercises take place amid calls from the new PLA leadership to boost internal discipline and preparedness.
Last week, Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, told troops during an inspection in southern Guangdong to put in force a “mass line” campaign “to build a strong military and boost the PLA combat preparedness”. The campaign is aimed at tackling graft and improving discipline.