Chinese troops on the country’s disputed border with India raised their combat readiness to the second-highest possible last week after an exchange of gunfire, but the alert was lowered after a meeting of the nations’ foreign ministers, military sources said.
The increase, to second level, meant more weapons and troops were deployed to the front line, and training exercises were ramped up for commanders, officers and soldiers, a military source told the South China Morning Post.
The last time such a high level was employed by troops in the restive region was in 1987, when a skirmish in the Sumdorong Chu valley pushed the two sides to the brink of war, said the person, who asked not to be named.
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The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has four grades of combat readiness. The first level is used only when military leaders are convinced an armed conflict is inevitable.
The PLA’s Central Theatre Command said on Weibo on September 8 – the day after the exchange of gunfire – that they had received orders to deploy more weapons and troops to the plateau, and begin a series of physical and technical exercises.
“Since the combat readiness level was raised, commanders, officers and soldiers have been working around the clock, carrying out extra training and drills,” the source said.
“The PLA mobilised more troops and weapons systems to the Line of Actual Control [the formal name for the disputed China-India border] in preparation for the worst.”
The heightened state of alert was only relaxed after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in Moscow on Friday on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, a second source said.
The ministers said in a joint statement that the tense situation on the border was not in the interests of either side.
Although the combat readiness level had been lowered, the second source said it could be reinstated if circumstances changed.
“The level can be decided by troops on the border, as happened before the 1987 skirmish, when it was adjusted several times,” the person said.
The defence ministry in Beijing did not reply to the Post’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, satellite images published in the latest issue of the Canadian military magazine Kanwa Defence Review appeared to show a build-up of PLA troops and military installations along the Pangong Tso valley in the disputed region.
“The PLA’s JH-7 bombers at frontline airports are loaded with weapons, indicating they are ready for action, and one of the obvious signs the border air force is under second-level combat readiness,” said Andrei Chang, the magazine’s editor-in-chief.
“I am afraid the confrontations might become a regular thing, and turn the LAC into another Kashmir,” he said.
Tensions in the Himalayas have been rising since a clash in the Galwan Valley in June left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead. Beijing said it also suffered casualties, but did not elaborate.
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based in New Delhi, said Indian forces had been on high alert since the deadly confrontation.
“The Galwan clash hardened Indian views on China, and not just the public perception,” she said. “It now goes across the board, and especially among opinion makers.”
More from South China Morning Post:
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- China-India stand-off: ‘narrow opportunity’ for foreign ministers to cool border tensions
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This article China-India border dispute: PLA raised combat readiness after exchange of gunfire, sources say first appeared on South China Morning Post