The remote Chinese regions of Xinjiang and Tibet bordering India will soon have 30 airports at the disposal of the Western Theatre Command (WTC) to facilitate the movement of army personnel, a state media report said this week.
The WTC is the largest military command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and oversees the disputed border with India. While some of these airports have been built and are functional, the remaining are under construction.
Among the three new airports to be built in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) are those at Lhunze county, Tingri county and Burang county, close to the border with India, official media had reported earlier this year.
Another strategic airport to be opened by the middle of 2022 is the Tashkurgan, the first super-high plateau airport in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on the Pamir plateau, close to China’s border with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Afghanistan.
Tiny Tashkurgan is the last important town in China close to PoK and located in the Tajik Autonomous County of the Kashgar prefecture in XUAR.
Once completed, the new airport will be strategically located close to the Wakhan Corridor, the narrow pass which separates PoK and Tajikistan besides China and Afghanistan.
Nearly two dozen new air routes have also been inaugurated connecting TAR and XUAR with cities across China this year, the report said.
The opening of new routes and rapid construction of new airports come in the backdrop of the ongoing Sino-India border tension in eastern Ladakh.
China is bolstering its presence all along the border with India, fortifying the remote regions by building critical civil-military dual use infrastructure like airports and railway routes.
The report published by the official military portal of the Chinese military this week said the development of the airports in border areas is making transportation more convenient.
“A chartered flight carrying 115 veterans took off from the Shigatse Heping Airport in Tibet and headed for Chengdu, Sichuan province, on the morning of September 1, marking the official opening of 23 air routes for transporting new recruits and veterans into and out of Xinjiang and Tibet in the second half of this year,” the report said.
The report quoted an officer in charge of a military transportation centre under the PLA Western Theatre Command as saying that there are “…currently nearly 30 civil airports built or under construction in Xinjiang and Tibet. The rapid development of civil aviation in the border areas has provided convenience for the air transportation of recruits and veterans”.
“It is learnt that after coordinating with airports in Urumqi, Kashgar, Lhasa, Shigatse and other places, the dispatch centre has opened up 23 routes to transport recruits and veterans into and out of Xinjiang and Tibet this year, and temporarily opened three routes from Yinchuan, Jiayuguan, and Zhangye to Ngari,” the report said.
While Yinchuan is in the northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, both Jiayuguan and Zhangye are in Gansu province, also in the northwest of China; Ngari is in TAR.
“It is also learnt that, in addition, some airlines help to reserve tickets of regular flights to Ngari in response to the troops’ emergency needs. And some urgently needed military supplies could also be delivered free of charge or at preferential rates by the civil airliners,” the report said.