A PLA airborne brigade held exercises deep in the northwestern desert on June 1. Credit: Sino Defense file photo.

China continues its sabre rattling amid border tensions with India by flexing its “Iron Fist” military muscle deep in the northwestern desert.

Since the long-distance maneuver to Northwest China’s desert regions was held in mid-May, Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) paratroopers have held intensive tactical drills and mock battles in June, The Global Times reported citing military sources.

A PLA airborne brigade held the exercises deep in the northwestern desert on June 1, in which a mechanized infantry battalion integrated multiple forces including armored vehicles, artilleries, engineering troops and scouts in a real-combat scenario, the PLA Daily reported.

Since the brigade’s long-distance maneuver to this region in mid-May, the troops have completed several drills including daytime and nighttime live-fire tests, tactical training and weapons tests.

“Paratroopers have strong assault capabilities, fast maneuvering speed and wide combat areas, making them an ‘iron fist’ in joint operations against the enemy. Exercising the ‘iron fist’ will give us a better chance at winning on the battlefield,” the PLA Daily quoted an officer at the brigade as saying.

The maneuver was only the first step, and the actual drills that closely followed should be the real test of troops’ fighting ability, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday.

A PLA Air Force airborne brigade of thousands of paratroopers recently maneuvered from Central China’s Hubei Province to an undisclosed location in the plateaus of northwestern China in just a few hours, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Saturday.

International observers have directly connected these events to the ongoing border situation between China and India.

After positive talks between the two countries’ senior military officers, experts said the dispute will not escalate into a conflict or another Doklam standoff, but the military standoff could continue for a little longer before concrete resolutions to the issues such as the trigger of the recent tension along the border, India’s alleged construction of infrastructure on Chinese territory, are made. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying downplayed the situation at Monday’s regular press conference claiming that China and India have been in close communication through diplomatic and military channels.

However, tensions have been growing in the Himalayas along one of the world’s longest land borders, with New Delhi and Beijing both accusing the other of overstepping the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the two, CNN reported.

The territory has long been disputed, erupting into numerous minor conflicts and diplomatic spats since a bloody war between the countries in 1962.

Writing in India’s Hindustan Times, strategic affairs analyst Shishir Gupta said Sunday that Chinese reports on recent PLA maneuvers were part of a “disinformation campaign” designed to sap Indian resolve, and “overwhelm the enemy into panic so that his capacity to negotiate is weakened.”

Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have built public support in large part on nationalism and a promise of future greatness, CNN reported. This often translates into jingoism and aggressive rhetoric, particularly when playing to a domestic audience.

Tensions grew late last month amid accusations both countries had overstepped the LAC and were reinforcing their military position on the de facto border.”

A “status quo ante” will require that Chinese soldiers vacate areas where they have dug in for weeks now, CNN reported.

Nothing short of their full withdrawal should satisfy India, which means that more than talks on the ground and by diplomats, there is a need for strong political direction from Beijing to the PLA to do that,” The Hindu, a leading Indian newspaper, noted in an editorial this week.

“Otherwise, India must prepare for a long-drawn stand-off, and manoeuvres aimed at ensuring China’s pull back.”