China escalates its military capability in Tibet
New technology developed following border disputes between China and India
The Chinese army has put a new lightweight battle tank into service that is designed to operate in mountainous areas on its borders including Tibet, The Diplomat has reported.
The new Type 15 tank, which has a powerful, lightweight diesel engine suited to running in low oxygen environments, was tested in Tibet last year. A Chinese defence ministry spokesperson has since announced that the tank has entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF).
“As for the Type 15 lightweight tank, according to my information, it has been handed over to our troops,” the spokesperson said in a statement on 27 December 2018.
The tank has a 1,000 horsepower engine which is significantly lighter than other tanks used by the PLAGF. It has also been fitted with a new hydropneumatic suspension allowing it to operate in high and mountainous regions like Tibet and the border with India.
The Indian border has been a site of rising tensions between Beijing and Delhi as both grow in power and regional influence. In recent years China has developed military airports, military jets, and satellite tracking facilities in the region for the same purpose. Chinese troops in Tibet have also been equipped with new vehicle mounted howitzers, which further expands Beijing’s military capability there, the state-owned Global Times newspaper reported on 8 January.
In June 2017 tensions rose between China and India following Chinese plans to extend a road on the Doklam Plateau between Tibet, Bhutan and India. The move resulted in Indian troops being deployed to the area to stop the plan. Following the standoff, both countries pulled back, but have nevertheless sought to develop new combat technology suitable for use in mountainous areas.
The increased militarisation of Tibet has been noted by several Tibet experts, including the late professor Dawa Norbu, an expert in international relations and security. Norbu wrote that occupation of Tibet is driven by strategic considerations rather than economic ones, but that the Chinese military presence in the Tibetan Plateau would ultimately threaten regional peace and security.