Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, the chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command on Thursday reached the northwestern frontier province of Xinjiang that borders Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) during his ongoing China tour, a rare visit for a top Indian army general.
Beijing usually refers to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s (XUAR) border with PoK as a border with Pakistan-administered Kashmir; it is the only so-called border it has with Pakistan.
China strictly controls access to Xinjiang and it is rare for visiting foreign military officials to be taken to the region.
Most of Aksai Chin, controlled by China but claimed by India, also lies in XUAR in the province’s Hotan prefecture.
Official sources told Hindustan Times, Singh reached Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on Thursday and was expected to meet China’s People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) top commander of the region and possibly, also visit a military facility tomorrow.
The remote province, which is also China’s largest, shares borders with eight countries including Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and India.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship corridor under President Xi Jinping’s intercontinental connectivity project Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), starts from the southwest part of Xinjiang.
India has stayed away from the BRI as projects under the CPEC are being built in the PoK region.
Details of Singh’s itinerary in Xinjiang were not immediately available.
Singh has already met the Commander of the PLA ground forces, General Han Weiguo.
“The two Generals discussed issues having strategic ramifications to include regional security environment, joint training, and measures to enhance peace and tranquility along the borders,” a statement issued by the Indian army said.
The statement added that the visit will serve as a milestone by cementing the mutual ties between the two countries.
“This will achieve the twin aims of high-level military cooperation and stabilising the sensitive borders of both the countries,” the army said.
The Indian general has also visited the headquarters of PLA’s western command in Chengdu and met its commander, General Zhao Zongqi.
China’s western theatre command (WTC) is the country’s largest theatre and its varied terrain includes desert and high mountains, long borders, and plateaus.
The command is responsible for both XUAR and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
Singh’s visit, according to the statement, comes close on the heels of the joint military exercise ‘Hand-in-Hand 2019’ held recently between the two countries in eastern theatre in Meghalaya.
“There has been a marked increase in mutual coordination between armies of both the countries and a will to foster friendly relations between them,” the statement said.
The visit also coincided with the PLA’s first major military exercise in the high-altitude border areas of Tibet in 2020.
The PLA deployed latest weapons including a new lightweight tank and anti-aircraft missiles to check combat readiness of its troops and the efficiency of its weaponry during the drill, state media reported.
The PLA’s Tibet military command has “deployed helicopters, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and anti-aircraft missiles across the region from Lhasa, capital of Tibet, with an elevation of 3,700 metres to border defense frontlines with elevations of more than 4,000 metres”.