China steps up LAC air drills as talks stall

The 16th round of talks between military commanders ended without any agreement to disengage

July 19, 2022 10:15 pm | Updated July 20, 2022 09:10 am IST

Supply lines: The road towards the Line of Actual Control with China from Leh.

Supply lines: The road towards the Line of Actual Control with China from Leh. | Photo Credit: PTI

China on Tuesday defended its stepped-up military activity near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as “normal”, amid concerns from India on Chinese aircraft flying close to the contested areas even as border talks remain in a stalemate.

“I want to stress that China always conducts normal activities in the border areas in accordance with relevant agreements signed between China and India,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, in response to questions about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) air drills in late June and early July in border areas.

After Chinese aircraft flew close to contested areas along the LAC, India scrambled aircraft in response and also raised the matter with the Chinese side, according to reports.

Mr. Zhao did not comment on the air drills, but said Sunday’s talks saw both sides “agree to maintain the security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector” and “stay in close contact and maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest”.

‘Reluctant to discuss’

The 16th round of talks between military commanders ended without a breakthrough or agreement to disengage at Patrolling Point 15 in Hot Springs. China has also been reluctant to even discuss the two other remaining disputes at Demchok and Depsang, while India has made clear its stand of full disengagement from all the friction areas.

In a reflection of Beijing’s priorities, on Monday, the official PLA Daily did not mention the talks but carried a report on its front page on air force drills being undertaken by the Western Theatre Command, which is responsible for the India border, in an unspecified high-altitude border area. The aim, the report said, was to increase combat efficiency.

Separately, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that the PLA had carried out tests of its new rocket launch system with precision strike capability, the PCL191 system, at high-altitude areas with the aim of deploying them along the India border.

Artillery brigade

“The system was being used by an artillery brigade in the Western Theatre Command’s Xinjiang military district in April last year, according to the official PLA Daily,” the report said. “The brigade was deployed to an area 5,200 metres (17,000 feet) above sea level in the Himalayas, near the border with India,” it said.

The aim was to show that “the PCL191 brigade could be deployed anywhere in the country, from the coast to the Himalayas, and take on challenges like the border dispute with India, or even a Taiwan contingency”, military commentator Song Zhongping told the Post.

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