The contested border region in the high Himalayas ‘has become more concerning because of their actions,’ the top U.S. Army general for the region says of China’s Western Theater Army.
By Paul D. Shinkman
March 31, 2023
Indian Army vehicles travel on a road near the Chang La high mountain pass in northern India, near the border with China on June 17, 2020. (STR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
The Army’s top officer for operations in the Indo-Pacific region warned Thursday of the potential for new Chinese offensives in contested areas of its border with India – among the most consequential flashpoints for violence between world powers and a place where the U.S. is dedicating more military resources.
“The activities [of] what’s called the Western Theater Army in and along that area have been concerning for a number of months,” Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, told reporters during a visit to a military base in Alaska this week.
He was referencing the Chinese military command that has overseen systematic and occasionally violent incursions into territory in the high Himalayas that India also claims as its own. The most recent encounter in November in the Arunachal Pradesh region – in which India employed new U.S.-provided intelligence to anticipate and defeat the encroaching Chinese, as U.S. News first reported – came days after American forces completed a new training exercise with their Indian counterparts along another part of the border. That exchange represented the fruits of a new partnership between Washington and New Delhi that has enraged the Chinese Communist Party.
“That area has become more concerning because of their actions along the Line of Actual Control,” Flynn added, referencing the rough demarcation line along the inhospitable mountain region separating territory that China and India each claims as its own. “Nations represented in that part of South Asia have voiced similar concerns as well.”
Analysts and officials say China is currently in a probing and testing phase, preparing itself for future conflict by determining how well the Indian military, with its foreign backers, can respond to provocations. It has vast implications for how the U.S. and its allies can effectively offset Beijing’s ambitions for land grabs there – and elsewhere.
Flynn on Thursday declined to offer any details on what new measures China has undertaken to improve its chances for the next incursion as Beijing tests its expansionist aims, to include any new infrastructure it has installed along the border or intelligence-gathering measures.
The general spoke alongside the commander of a newly reactivated unit, the 11th Airborne Division based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, where he was visiting. Since its reformation in 2022, the division has taken on responsibility for the wider Indo-Pacific region, including preparing for rapid deployment in the case of a military confrontation. The unit is currently taking part in exercises at its training facility in Alaska with Canadian counterparts and field artillery to prepare for deploying rapidly into an Arctic environment.
The commander, Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler, detailed the new military exchanges his unit has carried out with Indian counterparts, first in Alaska two years ago and again last November at staging areas in the Himalayas, and revealed that the U.S. plans to increase their frequency.
“It was a great exercise ... going into the Himalayas was something of a first for us,” Eifler said. “This is something we’re looking to do more frequently in the future.”
India plans to return to Alaska for new exercises later this year, he said, adding, “It’s getting to be a great routine of like-minded units training together.”
The exercises themselves have infuriated Beijing, but particularly the division’s decision to conduct and publicize a promotion ceremony for four of its officers in the shadow of Nanda Devi, the second-tallest peak in India and a source of deep cultural significance to the surrounding communities, as well as an impromptu outdoor rock concert in which Eifler played guitar. A spokesman told U.S. News earlier this month the activities were “simply a friendly effort to acknowledge the hard work and professionalism of our soldiers and an opportunity to relax with friends after an intense training mission.”
“Every day felt like you were in a painting,” Eifler added. “It’s amazing to see those Himalayan mountains.”