China beefs up military position with more Indian border units, desert missile silos, navy forces

Foreign Affairs

As the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centennial, promising a stronger China, including its military, several outside reports showed beefed-up Chinese troop positions and capabilities.

military soldier holding gun and airplanes china
Illustration by Derek Zheng

The centenary celebration of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), held yesterday in Tiananmen Square and featuring a defiant speech by General Secretary Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, did not include a full military parade. But in his speech, Xi did urge China to “accelerate the modernization of national defense and the armed forces.”

Meanwhile, several reports this week revealed how China is advancing its military position, both in geography and technology.

“At least 50,000” troops at the Indian border

Over a year since the bloody India-China border clash of June 2020, the two sides remain at a stalemate, and the fuzzy line of actual control (LAC) marking their Himalayan border is more militarized than at perhaps any time since the Sino-Indian War of 1962.

Reports indicate that about a quarter million troops are stationed near the border, primarily on the Indian side, but both sides have increased deployments in recent months.

  • “India now has roughly 200,000 troops focused on the border…which is an increase of more than 40% from last year,” and an increase of 50,000 in recent weeks or months, Bloomberg reported.
  • India redirected these troops after it observed China building infrastructure, including new airfields in Tibet, and moving “additional forces from Tibet to the Xinjiang Military Command, which is responsible for patrolling disputed areas along the Himalayas.”
  • China has “gradually increased its troop presence, mostly over the past few months, to at least 50,000, up from about 15,000 at this time last year, according to Indian intelligence and military officials,” the Wall Street Journal reports today.

“More than 100” missile silos in the desert in Gansu Province

Researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies studied satellite imagery to discover “more than 100 new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles in a desert near the northwestern city of Yumen, a building spree that could signal a major expansion of Beijing’s nuclear capabilities,” according to the Washington Post.

  • China possesses a few hundred nuclear weapons, in comparison with the many thousands in the U.S., and it is unclear if some of the silos could be decoys.
  • “We believe China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a U.S. first strike in sufficient numbers to defeat U.S. missile defenses,” Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on China’s nuclear arsenal, who was one of the analysts for the report, told the Washington Post.

A third aircraft carrier nearing completion?

China currently has two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the newer, larger Shandong, commissioned in 2019.

A third carrier under construction now has a “near-complete flight deck,” according to a June satellite photo, the Economist reports. The still unnamed craft is “likely to be the world’s largest non-American carrier for many years,” an analyst told the Economist.

See also:

  • U.S. calls build-up of China’s nuclear arsenal ‘concerning’ / Reuters (porous paywall)
    “The United States said on Thursday China’s rapid build-up of its nuclear forces was concerning and called on Beijing to engage with it ‘on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races.’”
  • U.S. and Japan conduct war games amid rising China-Taiwan tensions / FT (paywall)
    “U.S. and Japanese military officials began serious planning for a possible conflict in the final year of the Trump administration, according to six people who requested anonymity. The activity includes top-secret tabletop war games and joint exercises in the South China and East China seas.”
  • How is China modernizing its navy? / ChinaPower Project
    “Over the last few decades, China’s navy has rapidly expanded. As of 2019, the Chinese Navy consisted of 335 ships, making it larger than the 296 vessels comprising the deployable battle force of the U.S. Navy.”
  • China is expanding its mysterious, Area-51 style airfield / NPR
    “‘I think we’re observing what appears to be a pretty important facility for China’s military space activities that appears to be growing,’ says Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who tracks space issues there.”
  • India’s second aircraft carrier INS Vikrant has China in its sights / SCMP (paywall)
    The Indian Navy will “start sea trials of its first domestically built aircraft carrier in a move that will boost its ability to counter China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.”