Xi rallies model PLA unit at India-China border, praises ‘great job’

Chinese President Xi Jinping has sent a letter of encouragement to a PLA unit stationed in Tibet on the China-India border, praising the troops for their “great job” over the past five years.

Unit 77656 – which was named a “model plateau battalion” in 2016 for its “outstanding performance in safeguarding borders” – is based at one of the points of contention in China’s sometimes deadly stand-off with India. Xi was responding to an update on its activities over the past five years sent by the unit.

“Your mission is strenuous and your responsibilities are heavy. I hope our comrades will carry on with the sense of mission, carry forward your fine traditions, enhance military training and be combat ready,” Xi wrote, according to reporting by state media on Monday evening.

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The letter went on to urge the unit to “faithfully perform your duties in defending the country and the border and strive to make new achievements for the party and the people”.

State broadcaster CCTV described the unit as “heroic” for faithfully performing its duties in the harsh conditions. The troops are stationed 4,800 metres (15,748 feet) above sea level where temperatures can fall to minus 40 degrees and extreme wind speeds are recorded for most of the year.

According to previous Chinese reports, the unit is based in Shigatse city’s Gangba county, close to Arunachal Pradesh – the region controlled by New Delhi, which regards it as an Indian state, but which is claimed by Beijing as South Tibet.

The two countries have been locked in a border stand-off since the deadly clash last June which killed at least 20 Indian troops and four PLA soldiers, in their worst fighting in decades. The two sides have been negotiating since then, but with no significant progress, while continuing to deploy troops and weapons to the Line of Actual Control marking the disputed frontier.

Unit 77656, under the watch of the Tibet Military District under Western Theatre Command, joined 10 other combat units in late August for an operational drill on a Himalayan peak, seen by military observers as a warning to India.

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