For the second time in one week, China’s State media outlets have showcased military exercises tailored to high-altitude regions, linking the drills to the ongoing tensions with India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
On Sunday, the Communist Party-run Global Times reported that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “organised a large-scale manoeuvre operation featuring thousands of paratroopers plus armoured vehicles to the country’s high-altitude northwestern region over a long distance from central China’s Hubei province amid border tensions between China and India”.
The Global Times, a newspaper that plays a key role in external propaganda, said of the latest drill that “the entire process was completed in just a few hours, demonstrating China’s capability of quickly reinforcing border defences when necessary”.
China has in the past used official media outlets to showcase military drills amid territorial disputes, an approach that the Chinese military has described as a “struggle for public opinion”.
Manoeuvres aimed at Taiwan are frequently shown on television, particularly when political tensions are high. On occasion, videos of earlier drills have been used for broadcast during times of tensions.
During the 72-day border stand-off with India at Doklam in 2017, state media broadcast regular images showcasing China’s military capabilities, aimed at both the domestic and overseas audience. The official PLA Daily in an August 2017 article described the strategy as aimed “to fully integrate the publicity forces of public opinion, radio, TV, newspapers and social media, and carry out a multi-wave and high-density centralised publicity in a fixed period of time to form favourable public opinion situation to allow for a final victory”.
The PLA’s Western Theatre Command said in a 2017 analysis of the Doklam media strategy that “seizing the initiative was key in the struggle for public opinion.”
Lessons for future
It said the aim was “to make India succumb without a confrontation between the two armies,” adding that the approach served lessons “for future struggles”.
The latest drills were also broadcast on the official broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), which reported “using civilian airlines, logistical transportation channels and railways, several thousand paratroopers under a PLA Air Force airborne brigade recently manoeuvred from Hubei to an undisclosed location on the plateaus of northwestern China, thousands of kilometers away”.
Major Colonel Mao Lei, head of the training department at the airborne brigade, told CCTV: “This manoeuvre mission saw significant breakthroughs not only in the scale of mobilised troops but also means of transportation. [Using civilian transportation] substantially expanded our means of transporting forces and increased efficiency in manoeuvring an entire organisation of troops.”
On June 3, China’s official media reported that another drill was held on the Tibetan plateau, which it described as “night-time high-altitude infiltration exercises behind enemy lines”. Reports indicated the drills were held in the Tanggula Mountains, not close to the border with India but on the far side of the Tibetan plateau in the east, near the border of Tibet and Qinghai province. A report in the Global Times said the PLA Tibet Military Command recently sent troops to a high-altitude region at night for “infiltration exercises behind enemy lines and tested their combat capability.”