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The Takshashila PLA Insight
Issue No 100.
May 28, 2021
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This is the 100th issue of the PLA Insight. I am using this occasion to have a quick round of feedback on how to improve the newsletter. Please feel free to fill this 3-minute survey form. You can choose not to reveal your name. This will help me improve the newsletter in the future. 

Many thanks for reading the PLA Insight. 
Suyash Desai. 
Today's Issue:

- China-India Brief: Minor Incident at Galwan, Amb Shivshankar Menon's Interview, DF-21C or DF-26 at Karakoram Pass, PLA UAV Logistics, Yarlung Tsangpo Dam

- China's Ballistic Missile Industry
- The Science of Military Strategy, 2020
- Zhanlan Martime Training Series: 2021
- China and Space
- The Science and Technology Commission
I. The Big Story: China-India Brief

The Hindu reports a minor face-off between Chinese and Indian troops in the no-patrolling zone at Galwan Valley, Eastern Ladakh. This reportedly happened in the first week of May 2021. It is the same area where the two sides clashed on June 15, 2020, resulting in the deaths of 20 Indian Army personnel and at least four Chinese soldiers. A no-patrolling zone extending to around 3 kilometres, around 1.5 km each, on either side of the clash site near the Y-junction of the Galwan Valley was created after the June 15, 2020 incident. A 30-day moratorium was also applied on foot-patrolling then. No more details of the recent face-off are available, but the Hindu reports that the two sides disengaged quickly.

The Indian Army, however, has 
dismissed such reports claiming no such incident happened, and the article published in media “seems to be inspired by sources who may be trying to derail the ongoing process for early resolution of issues in Eastern Ladakh.” The Army added, “Media professionals are requested to clarify actual versions/positions on incidents involving the Indian Army from authorised sources in the Indian Army and not base reports on un-corroborated inputs from third parties.” The Hindu has quoted a senior government official for this story.

Meanwhile, India’s Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said India would lose no part of its sovereign territory without a fight. “The Indian armed forces have been given the tasks to ensure the sanctity of our borders are maintained, and no part of our territory is lost without a fight. The Service Chiefs and I have said that we need to be prepared, and any misadventure from our adversaries will be dealt with firmly,” 
said Gen Rawat. Before Gen Rawat’s interview, India’s Army Chief Gen MM Naravane said that both countries should constantly talk.

Similarly, India’s Foreign Minister, Dr S Jaishankar also 
claimed that the relationship is at a crossroads. The direction depends on whether the Chinese side adheres to consensus and follows the agreements. Lt Gen HS Panag had an interesting take on this. He writes that recent Indian statements show that India’s defence strategy is anchored on hope. He claims that our strategy is defensive and reactive to future Chinese actions. “We have no intention to militarily restore the status quo ante April 2020. Diplomacy has been relegated to military-to-military talks at the Corps Commander-level and Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) at the Joint Secretary level. Until China obliges by unilaterally restoring the status quo ante April 2020, our enhanced deployment of “50-60,000 troops” troops will continue. Mercifully, the LAC is not planned to be and, I dare to say, cannot be manned like the Line of Control. The terrain along the LAC is not defensible and will subsume all our mountain divisions. In my view, we have no clarity on China’s political and military aims, and our strategy is flawed and reflects intellectual bankruptcy,” writes Lt Gen Panag.

Similarly, in a recent interview with the 
Indian Express, Amb Shivshankar Menon said that the government should be transparent about what’s happening on the border. “Today, for instance, we have a problem as the Chinese change the status quo along the LAC in the western sector at several spots. We are talking of disengagement, not of restoring the status quo. But at the same time, the initial tendency was to say nothing has happened. If nothing has happened, what are you discussing? And the Chinese then would be justified in saying, what are you asking us to withdraw from?… My advice would be, it’s best to be honest with your people right from the start. Otherwise, you get into a very complicated web of trying to explain,” said Amb Menon. He also said that the Indian Army was right in occupying the heights, and it paid its dividends in the sense that at least the situation around Pangong Tso is relatively back to what it was before. But he added, “Our job now is to restore deterrence on that line which has broken down because if it hadn’t been broken down, they (China) would not have tried to change the status quo in so many spots at the same time and on such a scale.” Do read the full interview, it has many things beyond LAC and India-China defence relations.

Meanwhile, on the Chinese side, the Global Times reports that the Xinjiang Command gets new anti-aircraft missiles. The previous edition of the PLA Insight had highlighted how Xinjiang was relatively neglected, and Tibet Military District benefited from China’s military modernisation. But the recent China-India stand-off boosted military infrastructure in Xinjiang. The new anti-aircraft missiles are a part of the same change. “The anti-aircraft missile and rocket artillery are the fifth and sixth new sets of equipment that entered service with the PLA Xinjiang Military Command plateau forces in May…The missile system and the rocket artillery have been identified as the HQ-17A field air defence missile system and the PHL-11 122mm calibre self-propelled multiple rocket launcher systems. It debuted in China’s National Day military parade in Beijing in 2019 and is the most advanced field air defence missile system - a single PHL-11 can carry 40 rockets and provide strong firepower,” 
reports the Global Times. Additionally, a few unconfirmed internet reports indicate the deployment of DF-21Cs near the Karakoram pass. However, there is confusion on whether these are DF-21Cs or DF-26s. That’s because the DF-26s were spotted with the PLA RF’s 646 Brigade, Base 64 in 2019 and 2020.    

Moving on, check this 
article in Jamestown China Brief on the PLA’s embrace of unmanned logistics to sustain its sovereignty claims. The article claims that the PLA logistics officers argue that UAVs can dramatically increase the efficiency of the PLA’s supply chain and improve the military’s ability to supply forces operating in hostile environmental conditions or contested areas. Such advantages could help China bolster its military presence in areas of potential crisis such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea. The authors highlight that the PLA began field-testing UAVs in transportation and resupply roles in early 2018. By November 2020, the PLA AF conducted an exercise using UAVs to air-drop ammunition and medical supplies (please check the article for the complete timeline). The authors conclude that the PLA has increasingly utilised UAVs to undertake small-scale resupply missions, and it may use UAV technology to boost the tempo of operations along the PRC’s border regions. The PLA’s increasing use of UAVs may be an early indicator that it plans to employ UAVs in a wider range of missions eventually.

Elsewhere, China asserted that it will choose the successor to the India-based Dalai Lama through “drawing lots from the golden urn” process with the candidate subject to the PRC’s approval. This was emphasised in the recent Tibet white paper, which ruled out the scope for the current Dalai Lama to choose his successor. 

Finally, ABC News had a 
detailed story on China’s Mega Dam on the great bend of Yarlung Tsangpo. The article broadly argues why this project could be one of the riskiest mega structures ever built. Three reasons: Its location on a seismically active region of the Himalayas where the tectonic plates of India and Eurasia meet, the India-China border dispute and its impact on the lower riparian. You could also watch this video.
Read More
- How China and Pakistan
negotiate: Carnegie OP
- Nepal gets a
consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu
- Is the
RCEP China’s gain and India’s loss?
- China’s Port
Investment in Sri Lanka
- Could
conflict reignite as snow thaws?

II. Research Papers

China’s Ballistic Missile Industry

Peter Wood and Alex Stone and Alex Stone published a research document on China’s Ballistic Missile Industry. Drawing on Chinese-language sources, the report reviews the history of the PRC’s research and development of ballistic missiles and traces the institutions that are key to these systems. It details the components and systems that are integral to these weapons and describes the companies, research academies, and production facilities that form the core of the industry in the PRC.

Key Findings from the report:

- Despite repeated cycles of breakups and consolidations, the system of academies and bases China built up between the 1950s and 1970s continue to act as the backbone of missile R&D. Within the current China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)/China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) defence industrial establishment, five research academies (CASC 1st Academy, CASC 4th Academy, CASC 6th Academy, CASIC 4th Academy, and CASIC 6th Academy) are the principal actors in the design, development, testing, and production of ballistic missiles, forming the “small core” of the ballistic missile industry. All five academies that make up the current ballistic missile small core trace their lineage back to the four research sub-academies created under the Fifth Academy of the Defence Ministry in the 1950s and the defence industrial bases these sub-academies set up in China’s interior during the Third Front Construction movement.

- China’s ballistic missile industry has already undergone repeated rounds of consolidation. A repeated theme throughout the 20 years (2000-2020) is the effort to gain efficiency and reduce waste by consolidating the various components of the industry. This includes not only the creation of CASC and CASIC in July 1999 but repeated rounds of consolidation of factories and research institutes dedicated to the development of key subsystems.

- While the major companies involved in missile production have added almost fifty per cent more workers since 2000, and R&D and production facilities have been expanded, the industry continues to have trouble attracting and retaining top talent.

- As China seeks to further leverage civilian input to boost defence R&D capabilities under initiatives such as the MCF strategy, the missile sector appears to be engaged in closer collaboration through the signing of strategic cooperation agreements with universities and the private sector at large, especially with respect to dual-use technologies and research fields such as material science and engineering.

The Science of Military Strategy, 2020

China’s National Defense University (NDU) released a revised version of The Science of Military Strategy in August 2020. Dr Joel Wuthnow compares the 2020 version with the 2017 version, which was also released as a revised version to the 2015 version published by NDU. (Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) and NDU have produced several editions of the Science of Military Strategy. AMS published new editions in 1987, 2001 and 2013. NDU published new editions in 1999 and 2015). Dr Wuthnow highlights that there are five major additions to the latest version - details on wartime political work, “intelligentisation” concepts, China’s military-strategic guidelines, major war operations, joint logistics and the People’s Armed Police.

The Wartime political work section identifies “unifying the thinking of war participants,” “guaranteeing robust party organisations,” “stimulating combat spirit,” “strengthening military propaganda and news control,” and “breaking enemy resolve” as the main features. “Adding this section is consistent with CCP General Secretary and Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman Xi Jinping’s emphasis on improving party control over the military, but according to the 2020 SMS, the changing character of warfare itself influenced this discussion,” writes Dr Wuthnow.

The 2020 SMS postscript confirmed that a key development spurring the revision was the “setting of the strategic military guidelines for the new era” (制定了新时代军事战略方针, zhidingle xin shidai junshi zhanlüe fangzhen). This appears to refer to an update to the guidelines made sometime after the 19th Party Congress was held in October 2017. The focus in the guidelines has shifted from “integrated joint operations” to “multidomain integrated joint operations.” The latter refers to an “advanced stage” of joint operations consisting of a high level of operational coordination across domains, including land, sea, air, space, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum, and also the cognitive domain.

Finally, on maritime military operations, Dr Wuthnow writes that the aim is to achieve control over “important sea areas” and “important maritime passages”. The text does not cite specific locations but notes that one key characteristic of these operations is “a rather long distance from one’s home territory, with large difficulties in operational support,” suggesting preparing for combat-oriented operations in seas farther from China’s coasts and well-defended supply lines.

Zhanlan Martime Training Series: 2021

As part of its broader effort to develop a distant seas capability, the PLA held an annual Southern Theatre Command (STC) far seas training exercise from late January to late February 2021. This event is likely the 2021 iteration of the ZHANLAN (湛蓝) series of far seas training exercises, which the PLAN has conducted annually since at least 2016. As the only far seas training event that the PLA consistently reports on each year, the capabilities displayed at ZHANLAN serve as a useful metric for tracking the PLAN’s progress in far seas operations over time.

The ZHANLAN-2021 training task group consisted of five vessels: the LUYANG III class (Type 052D) guided-missile destroyer YINCHUAN (DDG-175), the FUYU class (Type 901) support ship CHAGAN HU (查干湖) (AOR-967), the JIANGKAI II class (Type 054A) guided-missile frigate HENGYANG (FFG-568), the YUZHAO class (Type 071) amphibious transport dock WUZHI SHAN (LPD-978), and the DONGDIAO-class AGI (AGI-857).

Author Rodrick Lee writes that one can clearly track the PLAN’s progress in this integrating factor from ZHANLAN exercises from 2016, when the PLAN barely engaged in combined arms training, to when the training task group was first classified as a “joint far seas training task group” in 2019.

Furthermore, the author claims that the PLA Army’s unidentified armoured element, possibly 74th Group Army 16th Heavy Combined Arms Brigade, likely boarded a second landing platform dock (LPD) and joined the task group towards the end of deployment in Zhanlan 2021. This is the first inter-service training that has occurred in the Zhanlan annual exercises. While there are a few shortcomings that could be identified from these annual exercises, India, the US and other partner countries in the Indo-Pacific region should be mindful of the progress shown in the high-end annual training like Zhanlan.

Also, read New Concepts Weapons: China Explores New Mechanisms to Win War

III. Developing Stories

China and Space

On April 29, a Long March 5B heavy rocket carrying the Tianhe 1 core module of China’s space station was successfully launched into low earth orbit from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province. It marks the first step in the construction of the China Space Station. Here are the next steps:


What’s the need for a Chinese Space Station?
China has been banned from accessing the International Space Station since the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) decided to exclude it from international space cooperation activities in 2011. This was mainly due to concerns about technology theft and national security. The CSS would allow China to conduct sustained scientific research in space and give it a leading edge in cooperation with other existing and emerging national space programs. Furthermore, in 2016, China signed an agreement with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs to open the CSS to all UN member states and various other bilateral space cooperation agreements. Notably, no US projects were selected for the first nine scientific experiments scheduled to take place on the CSS, which will involve 17 countries with a wide range of spacefaring experience.

The international agreements currently governing the joint operation of the ISS will expire in 2024, and Russia recently announced that it plans to withdraw from the ISS and will seek to build its own space station. India has also expressed interest in building an independent space station. Meanwhile, US policymakers have grown increasingly concerned about plans to safely deorbit the ISS at the end of its lifetime, which is expected to be sometime after 2028. Chinese onlookers have rather cynically pegged the ISS’s endpoint to 2024, at which point the CSS could be the only international space station in low earth orbit, making China—by at least one metric—the de facto global leader in space.

You could also read Dr Rajeshwari Rajgopalan’s
piece on China’s Tianwen-1 Land Rover on Mars.

China-US Defence Talks

Beijing has reportedly rejected US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s office request to talk to Chinese Central Military Commission (CMC) vice-chairman Xu Qiliang three times. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US officials “certainly desire to have a dialogue with our counterparts in Beijing…We desire to have a dialogue with our counterparts in Beijing, and we’re still working our way through what that’s going to look like and how that’s going to transpire.” Minne Chan reports for the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that Austin’s counterpart should be Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, rather than Xu – the No 2 in the CMC below President Xi Jinping, who chairs the body. “Both Xu and Wei report to Xi, but in diplomatic protocol, Austin’s counterpart is Wei…The Pentagon realised this when [Austin’s predecessors] Mark Esper and James Mattis were in office,” reports SCMP.

More of this in Eye on China, Manoj Kewalramani’s weekly newsletter.

Also, read Lowy Institute’s recent
Policy Brief on Australia’s South China Sea Challenge.

IV. News Update

China-Vietnam Ties

Xi Jinping said that China stands ready to make active efforts with Vietnam to build the two countries into a community with a shared future that bears strategic significance. He made the remarks in a telephone conversation with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and asked the latter to convey his sincere greetings to General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong. Mountains and rivers link China and Vietnam, Xi said, pointing out that the traditional friendship of "camaraderie and brotherhood" is the common treasure of the two parties and countries and that good-neighbourliness is the big picture of the development of relations between the two parties and countries. The two sides, he suggested, should view and grasp the relations between the two parties and countries from a strategic and long-term perspective and set the right direction for China-Vietnam relations to move forward. Xi also called for concerted efforts to continuously expand bilateral trade, speed up infrastructure connection, and fully tap the cooperation potential of new business forms and new driving forces to better serve both countries' economic and social development.

PLA’s Munitions Drop Exercise in the South China Sea

The PLA Navy announced that it recently conducted a live-fire exercise in the South China Sea. Warplanes rained down thousands of munitions at maritime targets as the pilots enhanced their sea assault and precision strike capabilities. A brigade attached to the PLA Southern Theatre Command Naval Aviation Force organised JH-7 fighter bombers for a live-fire shooting exercise at a maritime target range in the South China Sea, focusing on precision attacks and saturation attacks, broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

Future Concepts and Scenario Ideas

A campaign on future warfare concepts and scenario ideas hosted by the CMC’s Science and Technology Commission was held in Beijing on May 23. More than 80 representatives, including researchers from local universities, scientific research institutions and military enthusiasts attended the award ceremony. The event aimed to tap military intellectual resources and inspire innovative thinking about future warfare. Since the public announcement of this initiative in August 2021, the PLA Daily reports that more than 1,000 people have signed up and submitted creative ideas. After being reviewed, some outstanding works with future warfare foresight, cognition and scientific innovation have been commended and rewarded. The Science and Technology Commission will continue to hold similar activities, improve and perfect related mechanisms, and actively explore valuable military theories and creative ideas claim the report.

V. Read More

- The Origins of COVID-19: Bulletin
- The Wuhan Lab Leak Question: WSJ
- Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Labs: WSJ  
- Debating the Origins of COVID-19:

This newsletter is written by Suyash Desai, a research analyst, China Studies Programme, at the Takshashila Institution. He has previously completed his M Phil from CIPOD, JNU. 
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