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Beijing’s 25 fighter jets, upcoming airfields — India-China border row is far from over

At the Shangri-La dialogue, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accused China of carrying out 'provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan'.

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The People’s Liberation Army displays the Hongjian-10 anti-tank missile system across Eastern Ladakh. Xi Jinping visits the headquarters of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command. Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe said India’s weapons were found on the ‘Chinese side’. The US and China clashed at the Shangri La Dialogue. Tangshan assault incident starts public debate. A lot happened in China—and the world—this past week, and Chinascope helped you navigate through it all.

Also read: Communist Xi explains capital’s benefits as Chinese executives speak up on economic crisis

China over the week

Sichuan province is often referred to as the doorway to Tibet and Xinjiang. It is also known for its agricultural abundance, and China has relied on the province to feed millions.

President Xi Jinping was on an inspection tour of the province’s Chengdu region, during which he sent out messages about ensuring food security.

“Xi Jinping emphasised that the Chengdu plain has been known as the ‘land of abundance’ since ancient times. It is necessary to strictly abide by the red line of cultivated land, protect this treasure land, and grasp the grain production as soon as possible, so as to build a higher-level ‘granary of Tianfu’ in the new era,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

Xi also met the top military brass of the Western Theatre Command. Welcomed by commander Wang Haijiang, Xi inspected the gathered officers and took a group photo. Also present were Li Fengbiao, the political commissar of the Western Theatre Command, and General Xu Qiliang, the senior vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Chengdu city acts as a crucial nodal base for PLA activities in Tibet and Xinjiang, including the headquarters of the Western Theatre Command.

The Xinjiang military district displayed a wheeled chassis-mounted version of the Hongjian-10 anti-tank missile system in the Karakorum region. The weapon system, first revealed during the 70th anniversary military parade in 2019, has been deployed at 4,500 metres and is a sign of China enhancing its war-fighting capabilities despite the relative thaw in border tensions.

China has also reportedly deployed 25 advanced fighter jets, including J-11 and J-20, replacing the MiG-21 class fighters. As per media reports, India is keeping an eye on dual-use airports such as Ngari Gunsa, Kashgar, Gonggar Dzong, Nyingchi Mainling and Pengshan Air Base in Tibet and Xinjiang. The sources who spoke to the media revealed that China is building new airfields close to the Indian territory, which can allow them to carry out missions from lower altitudes.

Besides the military hardware upgrades, Xinhua reported about the enhancement of China National Highway (G219), which connects Xinjiang to Tibet. “More than 70 western counties and cities and more than 30 national first-class ports are connected by the new 219 National Highway, building the western artery,” the report said.

A J-7 fighter jet crashed near Laohekou Airport in Hubei province, killing one person and injuring two. Xinhua shared the video of the burning jet after it had turned several houses into rubble.

In other news, a video of a group of men assaulting women in Tangshan city is drawing all-round condemnation on Chinese social media.

Four women were assaulted at a restaurant after a man slapped one of them for resisting inappropriate behaviour. The incident led to an uproar. Chen Jizhi—the main accused—and eight other assailants were arrested. The top six trends on Weibo platform were related to the assault. The hashtag ‘Tangshan beatings’ was viewed over 3.2 billion times.

Also read: In China, a growing pressure to find a scapegoat for disastrous Covid handling in Shanghai

China in world news

The Shangri-La dialogue is a one-of-its-kind international security conference that has, in the past years, become a platform overshadowed by US-China geopolitical rivalry. However, returning to the in-person format this year, the much-anticipated participation of the Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe caught the world’s attention.

At the summit, General Fenghe made remarks about the India-China border.

“The merits of the China-India border conflicts are clear, and the responsibility does not lie with China. I have personally experienced the start and end of the frictions as a defence minister. We have found a lot of weapons owned by the Indian side. They have also sent people to the Chinese side,” said Wei while responding to a question.

At the conference, Washington and Beijing clashed over the fate of Taiwan.

“The Chinese government and military will resolutely deter any attempt for ‘Taiwan independence’ and safeguard the reunification of the motherland,” said General Wei Fenghe.

When asked about China’s nuclear weapons programme, Wei said, “I wonder if you have seen China’s 70th anniversary of the National Day military parade, and the new weapons and equipment displayed.”

“Many countries are testing weapons. There is no surprise that China is doing so,” Wei added.

Besides Wei, the PLA’s top military delegation included Lieutenant General Zhang Zhenzhong, who said “the US wants to maintain regional hegemony through its Indo-Pacific strategy.”

If China was outspoken about its interests at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the US didn’t hold back either.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin cited a “steady increase in provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan”. “Our policy hasn’t changed, but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem true for the PRC.”

In a first-of-its-kind statement, the defence ministers of Japan, South Korea, and the US spoke about the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan strait at the Shangri-La dialogue.

As Wei’s remarks at the dialogue suggest, the India-China border conflict is far from resolved.

On 6 June, India tested nuclear-capable Agni IV, which has a range of 4,000 kilometres, which covers the northern reaches of China. “The successful test reaffirms India’s policy of having a ‘Credible Minimum Deterrence’ capability,” said the Ministry of Defence in a press release.

Also Read: China’s cover-up of Covid and PLA deaths isn’t working. Neither are the social media bans

Must read this week

China’s new plans to stimulate rural consumption — Barry van Wyk

Has China Lost Europe? — Ian Johnson

Experts this week

“In terms of economic and trade relations, although China is India’s largest trading partner, the trade volume between China and India only accounts for 2%  of China’s export trade volume. India’s special restrictions on Chinese foreign investment are more political metaphors than economic ones. There is no need to be very nervous about the protective posture of Chinese capital towards India because China-India economic and trade relations can only achieve the status of ‘icing on the cake’ for China,” wrote Li Lairu, associate professor, Overseas College, Yunnan University of Finance and Economics, in the South Asia Research newsletter, published on WeChat.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

This is a weekly round-up that Aadil Brar writes about what’s buzzing in China. This will soon be available as a subscribers’-only product.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

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