China’s military stages drills over Lunar New Year holiday

Focus of Beijing’s fighter-jet manoeuvres on ‘confronting threat from India’

A screen promotes recruitment for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army: Beijing has territorial disputes of varying degrees with all of its neighbours. Photograph: Andy Wong

A screen promotes recruitment for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army: Beijing has territorial disputes of varying degrees with all of its neighbours. Photograph: Andy Wong

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China’s People’s Liberation Army made a strong show of force over the Lunar New Year holiday, with fighter jets training over Tibet “to confront any threat from India”, state media reported.

The PLA’s army, navy, air and rocket force troops took part in manoeuvres with J10 and J11 fighter jets staging aerial combat training exercises on February 13th, two days before the annual holiday known as the Spring Festival.

China’s growing military might has caused concern in the region, especially as Beijing has territorial disputes of varying degrees with all of its neighbours.

Beijing’s build-up of military facilities on contested reefs in the South China Sea has been slammed by western governments, while long-simmering tensions with India to the west threaten to erupt.

Commentator Song Zhongping said the exercises in China’s Western Theatre Command, which is chiefly responsible for mountain warfare at the border area with India, were “significant”.

“Strengthening the 3.5-generation fighter jets or even stationing more advanced fighters in the Western Theatre Command has been urgent for the PLA,” Mr Song told the Global Times newspaper.

“With India importing new jets, China will continue strengthening its fighter jets in the Western Theatre Command,” he said.

China and India had a territorial stand-off last summer in Doklam near the borders of India, China and Bhutan.

On the same day, three China coast guard vessels conducted patrols off the Diaoyu Islands, which are Japanese territory but are claimed by China, while the North China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy held training exercises in the Yellow Sea last Saturday.

Chinese influence

For decades, China and India have competed for dominance in South Asia. India has refused to sign up for China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, an infrastructure project aimed at boosting Chinese influence across Asia and into Europe and Africa, through the imports of key commodities, infrastructure projects and trade routes.

The BRI is a central plank of President Xi Jinping’s policies.

China has been investing in countries in the Indian Ocean such as the Maldives and Sri Lanka, much to the annoyance of New Delhi.

A fleet of destroyers and at least one frigate sailed into the East Indian Ocean this month. A constitutional crisis in the Maldives has left the tiny tropical island chain in a state of emergency, and opposition critics have accused Beijing of attempting a “land grab” in the Maldives.

Nearly 80 per cent of the Maldives’ overseas debts are to Beijing – and the former Maldivian president, Mohamed Nasheed, said these unpayable debts could force the Maldives to cede territory to China as early as 2019. He likened Beijing’s behaviour in the region to that of the rapacious East India Company in the 19th century.

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