As India and China discuss border disengagement, the Chinese PLA used a newly-inaugurated bullet train to transport its PLA troops to a remote exercise field in Tibet.
The rail track connects the capital city of Lhasa to the Tibetan town of Nyingchi, which is very close to the Indian border at Arunachal Pradesh.
This comes at a time when India is set to deploy a number of warships to the disputed South China Sea. Interestingly, the two countries have just wrapped up the 12th round of corps-commander level meeting and agreed to hold further talks aimed at easing tensions and avoiding conflict along with their contested border areas, as noted by a joint statement.
The two nuclear-armed neighbors have been locked in a year-long standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), their de facto Himalayan border.
Meanwhile, in continuation with the naval drills, the US Navy recently sent warships to Taiwan Strait and conducted a separate exercise in the South China Sea, in yet another attempt to contain China.
A littoral combat ship USS Tulsa, the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd and an explosive disposal detachment patrolled the waters of the South China Sea, which China claims as part of its territory and aggravates the littoral states by violating their maritime zone.
India has also signaled its intention to play a greater role in countering China by deploying four warships, including a guided-missile destroyer and missile frigate, to the South China Sea in a show of solidarity towards what their navy called “friendly countries”.
In another story, China carried out the maiden mission using the newly inaugurated Lhasa-Nyingchi bullet train to transport new recruits of an arms brigade affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Tibet Military Command to an exercise field at an elevation of 4,500 meters.
The Bullet Train
The Chinese state-run Global Times reported that the newly opened Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway in Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region recently hosted its first military transport mission.
“This is the first time the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway, an important part of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, has hosted a troop transport mission and marks another step forward on the systematic development of China’s military transport,” the report said.
“Trains are a key means to transport military personnel, equipment and supplies on a large scale, as it can serve to complement road transport, which is slower but can transport more, and air, which is faster but can transport less,” a Chinese military expert who served in Tibet told the Global Times.
The EurAsian Times earlier reported on the Lhasa-Nyingchi bullet train project which was fully operationalized on June 25. The first fully electrified high-speed train service connects Tibetan capital Lhasa and Nyingchi in 3 hours and 29 minutes, running opposite India’s Arunachal Pradesh state.
The Lhasa-Nyingchi section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway is 435.48 km long. Powered by both internal combustion and electricity, the train was been designed to move at a speed of 160 kmph.
The significance of the project can be gauged from the fact that last month, President Xi Jinping became the first top Chinese leader to visit the Tibetan border town of Nyingchi and later traveled to Lhasa by high-speed train.
Jayanta Kalita, editor of Eurasian Times opined that China has rapidly improved infrastructure in areas close to the LAC.
“(China) has expanded the railway network connecting the remote parts of Tibet with mainland China, a move to assert Beijing sovereignty and supremacy and counter Western narrative in support of the Tibetans’ right to self-determination,” he said.
The Indian Navy Mission
The Indian Navy officials in a statement confirmed that it will be sending a naval task force to the contested waters of the South China Sea.
Four warships including a guided-missile destroyer and a missile frigate will be deployed for a two-month period to Southeast Asia, the South China Sea, and the western Pacific, the Navy said in a statement, adding that the exercise is in light of India’s Act East policy.
“The deployment of the Indian Navy ships seeks to underscore the operational reach, peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain…” it said.
This move is seen as a shift in the Indian military’s approach from avoiding antagonizing China to stepping up regional efforts in countering the country’s aggressive actions.
A similar event occurred last year, after the deadly Galwan clash in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives. Reports emerged that the Indian Navy had sent a frontline warship to the South China Sea as a part of a “routine drill”. The Indian Navy had also deployed its frontline vessels along the Malacca straits near Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The naval task force would be a part of the US-led exercise, scheduled to be held in August off the coast of Guam. The drills include bilateral exercises with ASEAN countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia besides Australia, as reported by Eurasian Times.
#US7thFleet's #CTF71, #CTF75, and #CTF76 joined together to form a Surface Action Group (SAG) with #USSTulsa #USSKidd, and @USNavyEOD #MobileUnit5 in the South China Sea.@USNavy #NavyReadiness #FreeAndOpenIndoPacific https://t.co/UaKBmptEsL
— 7th Fleet (@US7thFleet) July 28, 2021
In addition, the Indian Navy is participating in the annual 2021 edition of the Malabar exercise, making it the second time that all four QUAD countries — the US, India, Japan and Australia — are holding a military exercise together.
China views QUAD as a US-led military alliance to contain China’s “peaceful rise”.
On the other hand, the US views with concern China’s actions at their border with India, as well as their treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, head of US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral John Aquilino said on Wednesday.
“We certainly view with concern many of the actions that we’ve seen from Beijing… Those actions [in Hong Kong] were completely disconnected from the words from Beijing to adhere to the agreement that was in place. We see similar actions if you were to look at the border with India. We view that with concern,” Aquilino said at the Aspen Security Forum.
“If you look at the actions associated with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the violations of dignity and respect and human rights, we view those actions with concern.”
China Hits Back
An op-ed published in Global Times said China will hold military exercises from August 6 onwards in a vast area in the South China Sea between Hainan and Xisha Islands, as a response to the joint Indo-Pacific military exercise.
“As for China, we must prove to the US and its allies that we love peace but we are not afraid of a war with the US in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. We are determined and capable to fight until the end and defeat it if these areas are attacked by the US,” the article said.
Comparing the South China Sea to the Caribbean Sea, the op-ed noted that the US needs to put itself in others’ shoes and understand and respect the feelings of the Chinese people and that China is no longer the country it was a century ago.
Calling out the US’ allies Japan and Australia, the article warned that they need to keep their distance and that it is dangerous for them to provoke China by following the steps of the US, but the author stopped short of mentioning India.
“From now on, the greatest danger for Tokyo and Canberra is their own ambition and restlessness. If they are not convinced by China’s rise and feel the need to help the US suppress China’s growth, then they are turning themselves into enemies of Beijing and becoming a strategic front for the US to contain China,” the article continued.