China raising Tibetan army unit to counter India?

Chinese army. (Photo courtesy: Xinhua)

(, Apr18’21) – Intelligence reports and communication intercepts from three separate intelligence agencies suggest that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intends to create a Special Tibetan Army Unit, said Indian media reports, including, Apr 18.

China has stepped up efforts to recruit more Tibetans as border standoff with India on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) continues, holding special recruitment drives across the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) since the beginning of the year, said the report, citing people familiar with the developments.

Anonymous Indian sources have said PLA officials had crisscrossed the TAR to hold recruitment drives and to pick up Tibetan recruits who were already at PLA camps.

Intelligence reports and communications intercepts from three separate intelligence agencies have been cited as showing the PLA’s intention was to create a Special Tibetan Army Unit.

If this plan goes head, it will be the first PLA formation comprising soldiers from a specific ethnicity, the report noted.

PLA officials from Lhasa were reported to have visited Rudok town in Ngari Prefecture in remote western Tibet, home to Mt Kailash, in the third week of February to recruit Tibetans as soldiers.

These officials were later stated to have travelled to Zanda or Tsamda County, one of the border counties of TAR, to select Tibetan recruits from several PLA camps for possible induction into the special unit.

The PLA also reportedly carried out a recruitment drive in Lhasa to induct a sizeable number of Tibetans. This drive was conducted against the backdrop of the standoff with India in Ladakh and the PLA was expected to raise more border defence regiments comprising Tibetans, the report said.

“These new recruitment drives are being held at a time when there are reports that mainstream Chinese troops from lower altitudes faced problems during their deployment in Tibet. We have intercepts showing their troops suffered from health problems such as severe mountain sickness and high altitude pulmonary oedema,” the report quoted one official as saying.

“It is also meant to send a message to India and to Tibetans in India,” the official has added.

The report noted that last August, India deployed the Special Frontier Force (SFF), a secret paramilitary force comprising ethnic Tibetans, for an operation to take over strategic heights on the south bank of Pangong Lake. A Tibetan soldier was killed in a landmine blast during the operation and senior Indian officials attended his funeral – the first acknowledgement of the SFF being used along the LAC and a move seen as a signal to China.

The special recruitment drives were stated to be meant to induct Tibetans into regular PLA, not the Tibetan militia units, which play a role in patrolling, logistics and transporting supplies using mules and horses.

China’s official statistics from 2010 were stated to show that there were 4,300 Tibetans in the PLA’s 2.1 million servicemen, with more recent figures being not readily available.


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