Soldiers stand guard at a border checkpoint on the Sino-Indian border. Signs bearing Chinese and Indian flags and bilingual slogans are in the background. Photo: AFP

About 25 Indo-Tibetan Border Police will attend a one-year Mandarin language course at India’s Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies near Bhopal starting in July, the semi-official Press Trust of India reported last month.

New Delhi hopes this small number of bilingual border policemen will be able to communicate with their Chinese counterparts and act as go-betweens with the two governments.

The textbooks for the language course are written in three languages – Hindi, English and Chinese.

The Press Trust quoted a university official as saying that four Border Police officials had completed the one-year course in the 2016-17 academic year.

The Visva-Bharati University in Bolpur also started admitting soldiers for a Chinese language course last year.

A file photograph taken on October 21, 2012, shows an Indian soldier keeping watch at Bumla Pass on the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo: AFP

The initiative to make some of the troops deployed along the 4,000-kilometer Sino-Indian border at least conversant in basic Chinese was spearheaded by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and first revealed by the Indian media in 2017.

At the time both New Delhi and Beijing were trading broadsides while increasing troop numbers and arms on the disputed Doklam plateau that sits on the border shared by Tibet, Bhutan and India.

Soldiers from both sides clashed during the months-long stand-off triggered by Beijing’s construction of a motorway in the borderland which New Delhi said could undermine its security.

The Indian army’s Eastern Command had also established an advanced Chinese language training lab for servicemen deployed along the Line of Actual Control, a demarcation line separating the Indian-controlled territory from the Chinese-occupied part in Kashmir, the UK-based Daily Mail reported last year.

The new facility can reportedly train 125 students annually.

Analysts say Indian soldiers acquiring Chinese language skills could help reduce misunderstandings while ties between the two countries are still incendiary.

“Language ability can boost communication in peacetime, but in a war, it becomes a weapon…India could come up with effective and targeted strategies once their troops can grasp what their Chinese counterparts mean during a full-blown confrontation,” a commentator noted in the Beijing-based Global Times.

Meanwhile, the Times of India reported in January that New Delhi was planning to add 15 new battalions to the country’s border force, a move that will fortify defenses along its strategic frontiers with Pakistan, Bangladesh and China.

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