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Beijing builds airports, routes to move troops to Tibet

Xinjiang and Tibet, remote areas of China bordering India, will soon have 30 airports at the disposal of the Western Theatre Command (WTC) to facilitate army personnel movements, state media reported this week. WTC oversees the disputed border with India and is the largest military command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The remaining airports are still under construction, although some have been built and are functional.

According to official media reports earlier this year, the three new airports in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) will be located in Lhunze county, Tingri county, and Burang county, close to the border with India. A second strategic airport is to open by the middle of 2022 in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on the Pamir plateau, close to China’s border with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Afghanistan.

Tashkurgan is one of the last important towns in China close to PoK, located in the Tajik Autonomous County of the Kashgar prefecture in XUAR. The new airport will be strategically located near the Wakhan Corridor, which separates PoK from Tajikistan and China from Afghanistan. This year, nearly two dozen new routes have been inaugurated connecting TAR and XUAR with cities across China, the report said.

The opening of new routes and rapid construction of new airports coincide with the ongoing Sino-Indian border tensions in eastern Ladakh. Beijing is fortifying the remote regions of its border with India with crucial civil-military dual-use infrastructures like airports and railway lines. China’s official military portal published a report this week saying the development of airports in border areas makes travel easier.

115 veterans boarded a chartered flight headed for Chengdu, Sichuan province, on September 1 to mark the official opening of 23 air routes for transporting new recruits and veterans into and out of Xinjiang and Tibet in the coming months, the report said. According to the report, an officer in charge of a military transportation center under the PLA Western Theatre Command said there are ‘nearly 30 civil airports in Xinjiang and Tibet currently being built or under construction. Rapid civil aviation development in border regions has made air transport for recruits, veterans and their families more convenient’.

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According to a report, the dispatch center has opened 23 routes to transport recruits and vets into and out of Xinjiang and Tibet this year, including temporarily opening three routes from Yinchuan, Jiayuguan, and Zhangye to Ngari. Yinchuan is located in the northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, while Jiayuguan and Zhangye are in Gansu province, also in the northwest; Ngari is in TAR. In addition, some airlines have been assisting in reserving tickets for regular flights to Ngari to respond to emergency needs for the troops. The report stated that urgently needed military supplies could also be transported at a preferred rate or free of charge by civil aircraft.


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