Chinese authorities in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa will conduct an air-raid drill on Saturday as China calls for combat readiness amid rising tensions along its undefined Himalayan border with India in the mountainous region of Ladakh.

The drill, running from 12:00 noon to 12:15 on 19-Sept-2020, follows India’s deployment on the border this week of five French-made Rafale jet fighters, and will be held “in order to improve the general public’s national defence concept and civil air defence awareness,” Chinese state media said on Tuesday.

“Citizens, government agencies, enterprises, institutions, and social organization personnel” are being urged to pay close attention to alarms, China’s People’s Daily newspaper said on Tuesday, adding that the scheduled drill is not expected to disrupt the city’s normal life and activities.

A clash between Indian and Chinese security forces in the Galwan Valley in north-western India’s region of Ladakh in June left dozens of soldiers dead on both sides, with both India and China saying that troops from the other side had crossed into their territory.

The governments of both countries meanwhile continue to accuse each other’s militaries of making provocative manoeuvres along the Line of Actual Control, their de-facto Himalayan border.

India had ordered and received the French-made jet fighters at the end of July “as it moves to upgrade its air force amid a spike in tensions with China,” told Tsewang Dorjee—a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute.

“The air drill in Lhasa is aimed at strengthening combat readiness for [China’s] People’s Liberation Army in the event of an air strike in Lhasa or other Tibetan areas. This is a worrying and frightening situation for everyone, not only for Tibetans living in Tibet,” Dorjee said.

China had already been holding air raid drills in other major cities in September to mark China’s annual National Defence Education Day, retired Indian Army colonel and satellite imagery analyst Vinanayak Bhatt said in a written response to questions.

“But the timing of this drill has raised many eyebrows, as the last time such an exercise was carried out in Lhasa was in 2009,” he said.

“In the current situation of the ongoing border standoff between China and India, this looks like a tactic of psychological warfare by Beijing to create a climate of fear among Tibetans,” he added.

Dual-Purpose Airports

Five airports are now in operation in the Tibet Autonomous Region: the Lhasa Gonggar Airport, Nyingchi Mainling Airport, Shigatse Peace Airport, Chamdo Bangda Airport, and Ngari Gunsa Airport. Three others—Lhuntze in Lhokha; Tingri in Shigatse county; and Burang in Ngari near the border with India—are being built.

Tsewang Dorjee noted that the airport at Burang will pose a particular threat to India’s security due to its proximity to the border. “The Burang airport will play a key role in the speedy deployment of weapons and military reinforcements in the wake of any military confrontation with India,” Dorjee said.

China’s airports in Tibet are dual-purpose and can quickly be deployed for military use, with civilian air control staff trained to work with China’s air force in cases of emergency, Vinanayak Bhatt said. “There are also a number of radar sites, and they have integrated air defence which is quite good.”

As many as 16 air-defence sites using surface-to-air (SAM) missiles have recently been established along the border with Tibet, with one set up in the politically sensitive area of Lake Manasarovar near Mount Kailash in Burang, Bhatt said.

“They are well aware that Manasarovar is a holy place for India, and yet they are trying to make a battlefield out of it. That is just not acceptable.”

“But the Indian air force is a very mature air force,” Bhatt said. “I am sure they will be monitoring these things very closely, and they will take care of these sites very well.”

Reported by Urgen Tenzin and Lobe Socktsang. Translated by Tenzin Phakdon and Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney