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Mixed Signal by Xi on India China Border

On the occasion of the Chinese New year, Chinese President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Xi Jinping on January 18th inspected combat readiness of the armed forces via video link ahead of the Spring Festival as per a China Military online report.

With constant emphasis on combat readiness the message from the Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party was directed at front line forces.

Xi selected the border outpost of Khunjerab, under the Xinjiang military command and enquired about their patrol and management work and hailed the soldiers as models of border defence and encouraged them to persist in their efforts and make new contributions as per Xinhua China’s official news agency.

The Kunjerab Pass is the highest pass on the strategic highway that links China Pakistan Economic Corridor known as the Karakoram Highway as per present deployments this is not on the India China border of Line of Actual Control (LAC) but in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Importantly Xi this time has not addressed troops deployed on the India China Border as he had done so in the past few times.

Selection of Kunjerab with reference to the ongoing border standoff with India assumes importance as to what signals the Chinese political leadership intends to send to New Delhi.

While President Xi has selected the Xinjiang Military Command in the Western Theatre for speaking to the troops, he could have selected similar or even tougher posts which are opposite the Indian side.

As per India Today open source intelligence team headed by Col Vinayak Bhat (Retd) a satellite imagery specialist, “Chinese post of Shenxianwan near Karakoram pass is considered the toughest PLA posting in the entire country,” and has been given the medal of honour and title of “Karakoram Steel Border Outpost”.

The PLA is giving increasing operational importance to the Karakoram pass sector recently as reported by the Hindustan Times in December 2020.

The Kangxiwar base to the Pass which had been a critical location during the 1962 war has been revived. This is being linked to Hotan the PLA Air Force base in this area as per the Hindustan Times report. Thus this zone is operationally significant.

That the Chinese President did not speak to troops at Shenxianwan may have also been due to different reasons such as communication challenges, nevertheless there were other high posts that could have been considered in other sectors of Western Theatre Command opposite Sikkim or Arunachal Pradesh.

By speaking to troops at Khunjerab instead of other posts such Shenxianwan is President Xi sending a message to India of reduced focus on the LAC opposite Eastern Ladakh and other sectors it may be difficult to guess.

On the other hand he (Xi) may be wanting to highlight the post on the Karakoram Highway – China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

More indicators are thus essential to assess whether this was an attempt to signal India through video interaction with PLA troops at Kunjerab Pass.


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