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China’s PLA plays mind-games in Tibet as Rajnath heads to Dushanbe for SCO meet

Xi Jinping made a quick, unannounced visit to Tibet — his first as the President of China, including Nyingchi, a strategically located border town close to Arunachal Pradesh (Pic: Courtesy modernshrines.in)

With the Ladakh tensions in focus, China has stepped up mind- games with India by demonstrating qualitative improvements in its firepower in Tibet, ahead of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Dushanbe where his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe will also be present.

The duo is participating in a defence ministers conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Apart from India, China, Pakistan and Russia and key Central Asian Republics are members of the SCO.

It is, as yet, not clear whether Singh and Wei will be meeting separately on the sidelines of the conclave. Earlier this month, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi had met in Dushanbe, where they re-visited the Ladakh situation as the fulcrum of frozen ties between India and China. Unlike China which wants to decouple the Ladakh situation from the other aspects of India-China ties, New Delhi is insisting that normalisation of ties can begin only after the status quo ante, as it existed in April 2020 is fully restored. 

Ahead of the conference Janes.com is reporting that Chinese state-owned media has released an image that People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) is operating the  Hongjian-12 (HJ-12) man-portable anti-tank guided weapon (ATGW) system. The website points to a photograph released on July 22 July via a WeChat account of the PLA's Tibet Military Command. The image shows a soldier carrying a launch tube assembly (LTA), which closely resembles the HJ-12 system.

The picture was embedded in a report about the PLAGF brigade conducting military exercises on the Tibetan plateau. The HJ-12 is manufactured by the China North Industries Corporation (Norinco).

Also Read: Xi Jinping visits Nyngchi, close to Arunachal Pradesh amid strong undercurrents of turbulence in Tibet

Analysts point out that by posting the image and the report, the PLA was sending a clear message that it was capable of blunting India’s edge in tank warfare on the Tibetan plateau. The Chinese had been apparently taken aback by India’s large mobilisation of T-90 tanks and other armoured vehicles during the heat of the Ladakh standoff.

The psychological operations at the military level have also included the demonstration of    a new wheeled multiple rocket launcher (MRL) system, which had been inducted in a combined arms brigade under the People's Liberation Army's (PLA's) Tibet Military Command, another janes.com report said.

The report cited China Central Television (CCTV), which in its broadcast on July 24  showed several  new 4×4 MRL participating in a live-fire drill at an undisclosed location on a Tibetan plateau  Other assets deployed in the exercise included the Dongfeng Mengshi CSK181 armoured vehicles and several examples of the new self-propeller howitzer (SPH) commonly referred to as the PCL161. Observers point out that the exercise is meant to convey the impression that the PLA has new offensive fire power including capacity to target Indian positions in depth to break a possible advance, or to breach well dug in defensive positions.

India has countered Chinese mind-games by not only remaining firm on its military posture in Ladakh, but also reaching out both to Russia and the Indo-Pacific region, including the United States, Japan,  Australia and France, apart from participating in a “teaser” about the possible formation of the QUAD-plus partnership that also includes countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

Nevertheless, China’s mind-games against India have also included a recent visit to Tibet the Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month. According to a Bloomberg report, Xi pledged to further improve construction along Tibet’s Himalayan frontier.

Xi also urged ethnic Tibetans and other minority groups to help defend the country. The visit included a visit to Nyngchi, a military hub not far from Arunachal Pradesh in India.