New Delhi: The “acute tensions and clashes” between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since May 2020 have given the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “valuable real-world operational and tactical experience”, the US military said Wednesday.
This assessment is part of the US Department of Defense’s annual report to the Congress on Chinese military power. Titled ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China’, it is a congressionally mandated report that serves as an “authoritative assessment on military and security developments involving” China. The first of these was released in 2000.
The report, which “covers key developments of the PLA’s military modernization and reform, and provides insights into the PRC’s regional and global ambitions”, dwells on the tensions between India and China in Ladakh that began last year.
According to the report, the stand-off started after the PLA “launched incursions into customarily Indian-controlled territory across the border” beginning May 2020.
“In 2020, acute tensions and clashes along the border with India resulted in significant PLAA (People’s Liberation Army Army) force buildup and establishment or enforcement of forward positions along the Line of Actual Control. These tensions likely provided the PLAA with valuable real-world operational and tactical experience,” the report says.
While the PLA has concentrated troops at several stand-off locations along the LAC, it also has a substantial reserve force from the Tibet and Xinjiang Military Districts, who were deployed to the interior of western China to provide a rapid response, it says.
The report notes that, beginning early May 2020, India and PLA troops have indulged in “multiple unarmed clashes” along the LAC.
At the height of the border standoff in 2020, the Department of Defense report says, the PLA installed a fibre optic network in remote areas of the western Himalayas to provide faster communications and increased protection from foreign interception.
This was done because PLA field commanders “view near-real-time ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and situational data as well as redundant and reliable communications as essential to streamlining decision-making processes and shortening response timelines”, it says.
It also states that despite the ongoing diplomatic and military dialogues to reduce border tensions, China has continued taking incremental and tactical actions to press its claims at the LAC.
“Sometime in 2020, the PRC built a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between the PRC’s Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh state in the eastern sector of the LAC. These and other infrastructure development efforts along the India-China (sic) have been a source of consternation in the Indian government and media,” the report says.
“In contrast, PRC has attempted to blame India for provoking the standoff through India’s increased infrastructure development near the LAC. Asserting that its deployments to the LAC were in response to Indian provocation, Beijing has refused to withdraw any forces until India’s forces have withdrawn behind the PRC’s version of the LAC and ceased infrastructure improvements in the area,” it adds.
PRC officials, the report says, have “warned US officials to not interfere with the PRC’s relationship with India”.
China’s global military ambitions
US Defense Secretary Llyod Austin said the report illustrates the importance of meeting the department’s “number one pacing challenge” – China.
I am pleased to announce the release of the 2021 China Military Power Report. The report illustrates the importance of meeting the Department’s number one pacing challenge. https://t.co/gw0UbtY6Vo
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) November 3, 2021
The report focuses on PLA developing the capabilities to conduct joint long-range precision strikes across domains, its increasingly sophisticated space, counterspace and cyber capabilities, and accelerating the large-scale expansion of its nuclear forces.
The report also focuses on China’s ambitions in both military and diplomatic spheres, and identifies it as the main challenge to the US’ global influence. Besides its base in Djibouti, China is pursuing additional military facilities to support naval, air, ground, cyber, and space power projection, it adds.
China, which has increased its pace of military training and development of modern military technology, has “likely considered” a number of countries, including Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan, as locations for PLA facilities, the report says.
China’s Strategic Support Force, “a theatre-command-level organisation established to centralise the PLA’s strategic space, cyber, electronic, information, communications, and psychological warfare missions and capabilities”, runs tracking, telemetry, and command stations in Namibia, Pakistan, and Argentina, it adds.
China, it says, aims to achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049 to “match or surpass US global influence and power, displace American alliances and security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, and revise the international order to be more advantageous to Beijing’s authoritarian system and national interests”.
Despite challenges posed by Covid-19, Beijing “continued its efforts to advance its overall development including steadying its economic growth, strengthening its armed forces, and taking a more assertive role in global affairs”.
The US report also says China’s nuclear expansion may enable it to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027.
“The PRC likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size the DoD (Department of Defense) projected in 2020. The PRC has possibly already established a nascent ‘nuclear triad’ with the development of a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) and improvement of its ground and sea-based nuclear capabilities,” the report adds.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)