Following a bilateral decision made in February to withdraw troops from the area, the Indo-Chinese border conflict has quieted down recently. Nevertheless, recent training exercises and new weapon deliveries to Chinese forces in the region may serve to reignite tensions.
Reports by Indian media based on open-source analysis of Chinese social and traditional media have found that Chinese forces in the Xinjiang military district are being reinforced with more modern artillery systems including PHL-03 rocket launchers as well as 122mm PCL-161 and 155mm PCL-181 self-propelled howitzers. Until recently, Chinese troops in the region were generally equipped with older equipment but reports of new ZTQ-15 tanks replacing Type 88 tanks and ZBL-09 8×8 Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) replacing older Type 63 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) are growing increasingly common.
Meanwhile, new exercises by Chinese troops are being conducted near the Ladakh region resulting in a bolstered PLA presence. However, unlike last year, the PLA forces appear to be limiting their activities to traditional exercise areas. India’s Chief of the Army Staff Manoj Mukund Naravane has stated that Chinese activity is being watched closely and that India will not be caught off-guard again. He stressed that the February disengagement does not mean that the crisis has been deescalated; over 50,000 Indian troops are currently deployed in the East Ladakh region.
Nevertheless, Naravane has stressed that thus far there have been no significant issues with China following the February agreement. According to the general:
“The situation along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) post the disengagement of February has been very cordial. Both sides are observing that disengagement in letter and spirit. There has been no transgression of any kind. […] With no transgressions happening with no violations of this disengagement, I think the trust has built up.”
Indo-Chinese competition is not just limited to the Himalayas, however. As China has been building new bases in the Indian Ocean region as part of its so-called “String of Pearls” strategy, India has responded with similar initiatives. Building up a base in Mauritius has become one of India’s priority projects.