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The Takshashila PLA Insight
Issue No 107.
July 31, 2021
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Today's Issue:

- China-India Brief: Corps Commander-level Meeting, Xi's Tibet Visit, Blinken Meets Tibetan Representatives, The Indian Air Force, China on Kashmir

- China's Missile Silos
- The South China Sea
- Taiwan
- How the Party Commands Commands the Gun
- Arms Control
- A Base for Military-Civil Fusion in Cyber Domain
I. The Big Story: China-India Brief

China and India are holding their 12th Corps Commander-level meeting today (July 31, 10.30 am IST). The meeting is being held at Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The two sides are expected to discuss disengagement at Hotspring and Gogra regions. Based on the agreement reached earlier this year, the two sides “completely disengaged” from Pangong Tso’s both banks. The previous Corps Commanders meeting was held on April 11, 2021, with no breakthrough. A round of Major general-level talks is also scheduled after the Corps Commander-level meeting.

Reports indicate that there will be a deal on the Gogra and Hotspring regions soon. China and India could most likely opt for temporary demilitarised zones like the Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso. However, not everyone is happy with these zones in India as a dominant view within the establishment is that it puts India further away from the Indian conception of the LAC, and the PLA cannot be trusted. Even if there is an agreement on the Gogra and Hotspring regions today, the problem continues at Depsang and Demchok. In Depsang, as this newsletter has highlighted multiple times in the last year, the PLA is blocking Indian patrols for some time now. The Patrolling Points (PP) 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13 were located within the Limit of Patrolling - which lay before the LAC. “Indian troops have not been able to reach up to these PPs in Depsang since January/February 2020,” a 
narrative holds. Another narrative is that the Depsang stand-off is a legacy issue. “The tensions in this area are not recent. The Chinese had intruded in the area in 2013, 2015 during the visit of Xi Jinping and during the 2017 Doklam crisis…The crux of the problem lies in both sides denying each other access to the Patrolling Points (PPs) located on the LOP. Earlier Indian patrols had been patrolling up to PP 11, 12, 12A and 13 and had not moved beyond that till the perceived LAC. But lately, the PLA has been preventing Indian troops from even patrolling till these PPs, and the phenomenon has become more pronounced after the Doklam stand-off.” 

Depsang and Gogra-Hotspring regions receive a lot of mainstream media's attention. The Demchok problem, however, is much less discussed. Chinese have erected tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nullah in the 
Demchok region“The presence remains, and we want them to go back behind the Charding Nullah for which we have been negotiating.” Until today, since these stand-offs started, China and India had 11 rounds of Corps Commander talks, 10 Major General level talks, 55 Brigadier level talks and around 1450 calls over the established hotlines. There are two hotlines for communication at Chushul and Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO).

Meanwhile, China 
deployed its domestically developed HJ-12 man-portable anti-tank missile, previously known as a made-for-export weapon, in Tibet. These missiles were recently featured in the military exercises organised by the Tibet Military Command.

Xi’s Tibet Visit

Last week, the newsletter highlighted that Xi Jinping is the first Chinese President to visit Tibet in 30 years. Before him, Jiang Zemin visited Tibet in 1990. However, Xi had visited the region as CMC Vice Chairman and China’s Vice President in 2011. 
 
Newer facts have emerged about his visit in a week’s time. It’s reported that Xi met the Tibet Military District’s officials and soldiers during his visit. He 
called on the officers and soldiers to strengthen military training and war preparedness in an all-round way and make positive contributions to the long-term peace, stability, prosperity and development of the plateau region. It’s to be noted here that he was accompanied by Gen Zhang Youxia, CMC Vice Chairman, Central Military Commission. Besides Gen Zhang, he was also accompanied by Politburo member and State Council Vice-Premier Liu He. Dr Jabin Jacob argues“While Liu is nominally below Premier Li Keqiang in the hierarchy, it is he who appears to be the General Secretary’s point person on economic issues also serving as the top Chinese negotiator in the trade war with the United States.” He Lifeng, Head of National Development and Reforms Commission – a body supervising large infrastructure projects at home and the Belt and Road projects outside- also accompanied Xi. The Indian press has reported on the implications of Xi’s visit to Nyingchi and Lokha prefectures in the Tibet Autonomous Regions (TAR) on India. Without a doubt, India needs to be cautious about Tibet’s upcoming dual-use infrastructure, border villages and ethnic changes. However, as Dr Jabin Jacob argues in the second op-ed of the two-part series, border security and Chinese transgression into the Indian Territory are not the only drivers for the Tibetan infrastructure build-up or development. The plateau’s ecological preservation, China’s toilet revolution and poverty alleviation campaign are equally important drivers for Xi’s visit. But besides internal drivers, the visit was extremely important to display Beijing’s intent to India and send messages to the US and the Dalai Lama.
 
You could read Robert Barnett’s 
recent article where he claims that by the end of this year, China will have moved a quarter of a million Tibetans - through persuasion and coercion - into border villages in the Himalayas designed to fortify and monitor the region (Must read, behind a paywall). 
 
Meanwhile, the US State Secretary Antony Blinken 
met Ngodup Dongcheng, an official of the Tibetan government-in-exile and representative of the Dalai Lama, this week during his visit to India. Another Tibetan representative, Geshe Dorjee Damdul, attended a roundtable Blinken held with around seven civil society members. This angered Beijing as the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson reacted, “The 14th Dalai Lama is not a mere religious figure, but a political exile who has long engaged in anti-China separatist activities and is trying to separate Tibet from China…We urge the US to honour its commitment to stop meddling in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Tibetan affairs and offer no support to Tibet independence forces to engage in anti-China separatist activities.” You could read Mr Blinken’s full interview with the Times of India’s Diplomatic Editor, Indrani Bagchi, here
 
On the Indian side, the Indian Air force has 
deployed its latest Rafale jets close to the Sikkim-Bhutan-China tri-junction at the Hasimara Base in West Bengal. Furthermore, an SCMP report claims that India is also the top client for Russia’s latest 5th generation Checkmate stealth fighter jet. China’s Chengdu J-20, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 and F-35 from the United States and Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 are the only fifth-generation aircraft in service. The F-35 Lightning II is the only stealth fighter available for export, but sales are limited to US allies. India had reportedly been in discussions with Lockheed Martin about buying the F-35s but did not go ahead with the deal. However, reports indicate that India is looking forward to acquiring fifth-generation fighters. Russia’s Checkmate provides a relatively low-cost option for India, and the probability of acquiring them has increased especially since the beginning of the ongoing China-India stand-off.

In other news, The Hindustan Times 
reports that Chinese customs recently seized a large consignment of locally manufactured world maps, which showed Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Tibet. The consignment, worth some $600, was confiscated during a check by the customs department at the Shanghai Pudong international airport. China also reiterated its support for Pakistan in its dispute over the Kashmir issue with India. “The Pakistani side briefed the Chinese side on the deteriorating situation in Jammu & Kashmir, including its concerns, position and current urgent issues,” a China-Pakistan joint statement issued after the meeting said. “The Chinese side reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a dispute left over from history between India and Pakistan, which is an objective fact, and that the dispute should be resolved peacefully and properly through the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. China opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation,” the statement said. India, of course, rejected the joint statement and reiterated that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh are integral parts of India. 

Elsewhere, India’s Chief of Defence Staff 
claimed that India needs to closely monitor the emerging situation in Myanmar, where China is making further inroads after international sanctions were imposed after the military coup in February.  (While reading about the coup, I found this funny one minute BBC video where a fitness instructor accidentally captures Myanmar’s military coup unfolding. Do check if you have time.)
 
Also, check these opinion pieces by Rear Admiral Raja Menon for the 
Indian Express and Lt Gen HS Panag for the Print. Rear Admiral Menon argues that India can achieve better deterrence by giving bigger roles to the Navy and Air Force and downsizing the Army by 2, 00,000 men over five years through retirement and reduced recruitment. “Only by shifting the battlespace to advantageous geography, by a united navy and air force effort (conventional deterrence can be achieved), while a technically advanced army holds the Himalayan border,” writes Menon. Similarly, Lt Gen Panag argues that to deter China for the next one to two decades militarily, India must optimise the size of the Army and modernise it, and exponentially enhance the capabilities of the IAF and the Navy.
 
Additional Readings

1) Dr Manpreet Sethi’s
research paper on missile development in Southern Asia for IISS

2) Dr Bramha Chellaney’s piece for the HILL on China’s
Himalayan misadventure

II. Developing Stories

China’s Missile Silos

Satellite images reveal that China is building a second nuclear silo field. This time it’s near Hami in eastern Xinjiang. Earlier this year, a similar field was discovered near Yumen in Gansu province. China is constructing 120 missile silos in the Yumen field and approximately 110 missile silos in the Hami field. The Hami missile silo field is in a much earlier stage of development than the Yumen site. Construction began at the start of March 2021 and continues at a rapid pace. The Hami site was first spotted by Matt Korda, Research Associate for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, using commercial satellite imagery.

Earlier in February, a dozen silos were also discovered in the Jilantai training area, Inner Mongolia.


Source: The New York Times

Before discovering the Hami, Yumen and Jilantai silo fields, China had only operated 20 silos for liquid-fueled DF-5 ICBMs for decades. Now, it appears that the PLA Rocket Force have 250 silos under construction. This is over ten times more than what China maintained for many decades. 
Matt Korda and Dr Hans Kristensen highlight that the Hami missile silo field has a grid pattern, where silos are located approximately 3 km from each other - with adjacent support facilities. They also claim that the construction and organisation of the Hami silos are very similar to the Yumen and Jilantai silos. Just like the Yumen site, the Hami site spans an area of approximately 800 square kilometres.
 
What do these developments mean?

I had briefly mentioned 
three possibilities in understanding these developments in PLA Insight's issue number 104. These were 1) Silos as a precursor to China moving to launch on warning posture 2) Increase in warheads 3) Shell game.

Korda and Kristensen argue that ensuring survivability of nuclear retaliatory capability, increasing readiness, protecting ICBMs against non-nuclear attacks, overcoming potential effects of US missile defences, transitioning to solid-fuel silo missiles, balancing the ICBM force and national prestige could be some additional reasons.


What can be done about this?

Korda and Kristensen argue that the clearest path to reining in China’s nuclear arsenal is through arms control, but this is challenging. The United States has been trying to engage China on nuclear issues since the late-1990s, but so far with minimal success. Rather than discuss specific limitations on weapon systems, these efforts have been limited to increasing transparency about force structure plans and strategy and discussing nuclear doctrine and intentions… Bringing China and other nuclear-armed states into a sustained arms control dialogue will require a good-faith effort that will require the United States to clearly articulate what it is willing to trade in return for limits on Chinese forces.

China’s response: There is no official Chinese reaction to these developments. Neither the PLA’s monthly press conference nor China’s MFA regular press conference addressed this. I could only find this
GT edit on the issue, which doesn’t fail to live up to the expectation of GT being a tabloid and nothing more. There’s nothing in the Chinese edition of The Global Times too.  

More on this:

- Previous Discoveries: Silos in the
Jilantai PLARF Training Area, Silos at Yumen

- A 2nd New Nuclear Missile Base for China, and Many Questions about Strategy: The New York Times

- Why is China Expanding its Nuclear Arsenal? NYT Podcast

- China is Rapidly Building New Nuclear Silos: The Economist

- China appears to be Expanding its Nuclear Arsenal: CNN


The South China Sea

During his visit to Vietnam, the UK Secretary of Defence, Ben Wallace, said that the UK agrees with the findings of the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award. “In recent statements, the UK has objected to Chinese claims based on the so-called ‘nine-dash line’ and ‘offshore archipelagos’ concept as being unfounded in UNCLOS, and we agree with the findings of the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award in this respect. We’ve seen Vietnam fishing vessels being rammed or even sunk and Chinese vessels congregating around Whitsun Reef in the Spratlys – threatening regional stability and undermining the rule of law. And let us be clear, that is not just a regional issue, nor is it even just a maritime issue...Which is why we are also becoming more proactive and more persistently engaged in the region,” said Wallace. The UK also decided to deploy two warships to the Indo-Pacific region for supporting the US FONOPs. This week its Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and escort ships also entered the South China Sea to sail to Japan.

China reacted 
sharply to these developments. It warned the UK striker group not to carry out any improper act as it entered the region. It also accused the UK of indulging in the colonial practices of deploying the royal navy in the region. As a message to the UK, China’s military conducted yet another drill featuring assault landing and island control exercises. The PLA also staged a drill in the South China Sea when the UK strike group was passing through the region. “China firmly opposes any country increasing its military presence in the South China Sea for the purpose of provocation,” said Wu Qian, the PLA spokesperson, in the PLA’s monthly press conference this Thursday.

Meanwhile, check this Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative
report, which claims that the Philippines has also stepped up its patrols in the region as a response to China’s coastguard and militia activities. The Philippines’ increased patrol efforts send a message that Manila is determined to assert its rights. But they are pale in comparison to China’s near-permanent coastguard and militia presence throughout the South China Sea. “A limited number of PCG and BFAR vessels have the endurance to travel safely to the Spratlys and Scarborough. These few Philippine ships have embarked on staggered tours across the South China Sea every couple of weeks since March, spending only one or two days at contested features before moving on. Chinese vessels, by contrast, operate as sentries, staying at targeted features for weeks at a time and usually leaving only once a replacement has arrived to continue the watch.”  


Taiwan and China

An Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) conducted a transit through Taiwan Strait on July 28. This is the seventh transit since the start of the Biden administration. The PLA Eastern Theatre Command spokesperson condemned this drill. “The frequent implementation of similar provocative acts by the United States fully demonstrates that the United States is the biggest destroyer of peace and stability and the biggest maker of security risks across the Taiwan Strait,” said the ETC spokesperson. Meanwhile, SCMP reports that China conducted 20 naval exercises involving elements of island capture in the first half of the year alone, exceeding by 13 such exercises carried out in 2020 by this time.  

In the meantime, Taiwan has 
signed a NT$9.63 billion (US$343 million) deal with the United States to buy six reconnaissance pods and related equipment to allow its air force to greatly increase surveillance over the Chinese navy’s coastal activities as the island shores up its defences against the threat from Beijing. The MS-110 reconnaissance pods would be delivered to Hualien in eastern Taiwan, where the air force bases its F-16 fighter jet squadron. 

Check this 
journal article from China International Strategy Review by Prof Qingguo Jia, School of International Studies, Peking University. He argues that there are many good reasons to worry about the recent developments in the Taiwan Strait. All indications suggest that Taipei, Washington and Beijing are moving towards an armed conflict. He argues that DDP’s victory and President Tsai Ing-wen’s “rejection of the 1992 consensus,” Tsai-Trump phone call, Taipei’s opportunism to change Tsai’s political fortune at home – which took a hit in the initial two years and continuation of tensions under the Biden administration are drivers for this situation between Taiwan, China and the US. Also, he adds that Beijing’s domestic politics, an increase of tensions between China and the US, and the changing nature of cross-strait military balance have impacted the equation. He argues that the crisis could only be averted if there is a change of public opinion in Taiwan, there’s a change of strategy under the Biden administration, Beijing sticks to peaceful reunification – if Taipei is more conciliatory and if there's an increase in Beijing’s military power- which could make Washington more cautious in encouraging Taipei to “provoke” Beijing and promoting peaceful accommodation.


Also, read this China Aerospace Blog on China’s Beidou Sat Nav Constellation – history, military use, civilian use and the future.
III. Research Papers

How the Party Commands the Gun (MUST READ, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this paper)

Dr Daniel C. Mattingly published a paper on how the CCP commands the PLA. He argues that the leaders of one-party state systems face a dilemma in building a loyal military to guard against domestic threats and a competent military that can guard against a foreign threat. He argues that leaders respond to increasing domestic threats by increasing an emphasis on officer loyalty.  He analyses a new dataset of over 10,000 appointments to the PLA. The data shows that factional ties to leaders are key for promotion but that leaders generally attempt to balance loyalty with competency. Yet, in periods of high domestic threat, civilian leaders promote unusually large numbers of officers with factional ties to themselves. For example, 1989 and 2012 were two periods when domestic threats were high in China. In each period, he argues, the number of generals with factional connections to a civilian leader increased dramatically. During the 13th and 14th party congresses, many generals elevated to the party selectorate had links to Deng Xiaoping. Similarly, during the 17th and 18th party congresses, the selectorate was packed with military allies of Jiang Zemin, who sought to exercise influence behind the scenes, and Xi Jinping, who effectively consolidated power by installing his supporters in the 18th party congress. He also highlights the unique system in China in which the primary civilian leader of each province-level unit—the Communist Party secretary—concurrently serves as a first-party secretary of the military district. This creates officer loyalty towards the civilian leader. But Dr Mattingly also argues that this system erodes the competence of the officer corps, potentially leaving the regime more vulnerable to foreign threats. His article challenges the conventional wisdom, showing how autocrats face a trade-off between guarding against internal and external threats. I highly recommend reading this article.


Post-INF Arms Control in the Asia Pacific Region

Dr Bates Gill published a paper with IISS on China’s role in post-INF arms control. He highlights that the prospects for negotiated arms control involving China are bleak. China maintains a hard-headed realpolitik approach, and for now, explicitly rejects the idea of entering into arms control with the US and Russia. He argues that instead of arms control, the US and China should focus on controlling the arms race in the near and medium-term. He also adds that a US-China track 1.5 nuclear dialogue would go a long way in confidence-building and undertaking risk-reduction measures. The process was formally halted by the US side in 2020, citing, among other concerns, a dwindling level of senior, authoritative participants on the Chinese side and a lack of progress in moving from a Track 1.5 to an official dialogue. 

“At an official level, Chinese officials have repeatedly expressed their willingness to discuss ‘all issues’ related to strategic stability and risk-reduction within both a United Nations framework (such as in the Conference on Disarmament) and in a separate process involving the P-5 members. The Biden administration may wish to re-engage in this process as a means to bolster American commitment and presence within the UN and to explore and promote possibilities for more in-depth arms control discussions and action at multilateral levels both inside and outside the UN,” argues Dr Gill.

He concludes that with time if the two sides can improve their relationship and avoid an open clash, modest arms control measures and risk reduction steps may be possible. But that will not happen until and unless both sides conclude that the risks of their present course are greater than the gains they expect to achieve. There’s much more in the paper, 
read it using this link.
 
Also, read Fenella McGerty and Meia Nouwens piece for the IISS on China’s
defence companies.

IV. News Update

- SCMP reports that China is developing a unique laser device for hypersonic military aircraft and missiles to fly faster and further. A team of laser experts at Beijing’s Space Engineering University have come up with a powerful laser gun mounted on the head of a hypersonic aircraft or missile, aimed not at an enemy but the thin air molecules just ahead. The device can reduce air resistance by 70 per cent or more, according to researchers’ calculations. 
 

- China’s Z-20 choppers were involved in rescue and relief operations in Xinxiang, Central China’s Henan province, over the past week. This is the first time that the Z-20 has been dispatched in a flood relief mission. Earlier, they were used in conducting exercises and support missions since being commissioned into a brigade affiliated to the PLA’s 83 Group Army.
 
- Also, read the transcript of the PLA’s monthly press conference. (Note the two military exercises that China will be participating in 1) China-Russia military exercises in August in Qingtongxia training centre 2) Ongoing Golden Cobra 2021 annual military exercises between China and Thailand. 

V. Additional Readings

1) China’s National Cyber Security Centre: A Base for Military-Civil Fusion in the Cyber Domain

2) Chinese Strategy and Military Force in 2021: A
Graphical Assessment

3) More than 100 Nobel Prize Winners Accuse China of Bullying 

4) Wang Yi talks about
Five-Point Consensus at China-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue

This newsletter is written by Suyash Desai, a research associate, China Studies Programme, at the Takshashila Institution. He has previously completed his M Phil from CIPOD, JNU. 
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Suyash Desai · 2nd floor, 46/1, Cobalt Building, Church St, Haridevpur · Shanthala Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru · Bangalore 560001 · India

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