China-India border dispute: PLA bombers pictured close to troubled region
China appears to have deployed strategic bombers close to its border with India amid ongoing skirmishes between the two countries.
In photographs published on Tuesday on an official social media account of the People’s Liberation Army’s Central Theatre Command, at least three Xian H-6 bombers and a Xian Y-20 airlifter were shown at an airfield thought to be in the Tibet autonomous region.
The captions accompanying the images on Weibo – China’s Twitter-like platform – said ground crews had been stationed at a “high altitude” base on a “plateau” – a description normally associated with Tibet.
They had been tasked with maintaining and refuelling the aircraft, the captions said.
Among the aircraft that can be identified from the images are H-6H bombers, which have a combat range of 2,500km (1,550 miles) and can carry heavy air-to-ground or anti-ship cruise missiles.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a brigade from the 77th Group Army under the PLA’s Western Theatre Command, said they had taken part in a live-fire air-defence exercise in a “northwestern desert” – a phrase often used to refer to Xinjiang, the far western Chinese region close to its border with India’s Ladakh, where the dispute is taking place.
The release of the statement and images comes after the border conflict between China and India escalated on Monday, with the two sides each accusing the other of opening fire close to the southern bank of Pangong Lake in a violation of a no-fire agreement signed in 1996.
The social media announcement that troops from the Central Theatre Command, which has its headquarters in Beijing, had been deployed to a region under the control of the by Western Theatre Command piqued people’s interest on social media.
Although it oversees several inland provinces, the main function of the Central Theatre Command is to serve as China’s primary defender and provide strategic reserve forces to other commands. However, other units from the Central Theatre Command, including a paratrooper brigade based in Wuhan, Hubei province, have been deployed to the border region since June.
China and India have been locked in a border dispute since May. In June, at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in clashes between the two sides. China did not acknowledge losing any of its troops in the skirmishes.
Both countries have sent reinforcements to the area despite agreeing to disengage from the front line.
The PLA has increased its live-fire exercises in Tibet and Xinjiang in recent months, and publicised them.
China’s H-6 bomber series is based on the former Soviet Union’s twin-engined strategic bomber Tu-16, which was built in the 1950s. The latest version – the H6-N – made its first public appearance at China’s National Day parade in October last year.