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Chinese troops are heading to Russia to take part in a tough mountain-warfare competition for the first time

China Chinese troops soldiers Tibet training
Chinese soldiers train on a snowy plateau in Tibet, June 11, 2018.

  • A team of Chinese soldiers is heading to Russia for gruelling winter-warfare exercises.
  • The Chinese soldiers will be learning from Russian military practice in extreme conditions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China is sending a group of soldiers to take part in a military competition in Russia that will test their winter skills in gruelling mountain conditions.

According to China’s defence ministry, 11 soldiers from the Harbin-based 78th Group Army unit under Northern Theatre Command will travel to Russia on April 2 to take part in a 50 km (31-mile) trek through the Western Sayan mountain range.

Challenges will include locating someone caught in an avalanche, fixed-rope descent and rescue, as well as shooting and grenade exercises.

The Sayan March competition, from April 14-17, is the first of 34 exercises taking place within the framework of this year’s International Army Games. It is the first time China has taken part in this preliminary stage of the competition.

Team leader Cui Yingbin told military newspaper The PLA Daily that China aimed to check its level of combat readiness through the games.

“By competing on the same stage with servicemen from various countries, we can not only further test the level of our military’s combat readiness, but also enhance mutual friendship and deepen military exchanges and cooperation between countries.”

Chinese China army soldiers Xinjiang
Chinese soldiers patrol the border of Khunjerab Pass in Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region, November 21, 2019.

The report also quoted Xu Bing, one of the 11 selected soldiers, who said all the Chinese participants were determined to perform well in the competition.

China has a tradition of turning to Russia in developing its military prowess, from hardware design to the structure of its armed forces. The Sayan March competition is an opportunity to learn more about Russian practices in extreme conditions, according to Hong Kong based military analyst Song Zhongping.

“China has to deal with its border dispute with India, and the battlefield in the Tibetan plateau has extremely cold weather and high altitude. China needs to gain experience to tackle new tensions and prepare its response to provocations from India too,” said Song, a former PLA instructor.

“What’s more, the Chinese military’s missions have expanded from safeguarding its national interests to protecting overseas interests as well, which would cover places with rough conditions and extreme weather.”

India and China share one of the world’s longest land borders and there have been several bloody conflicts, including the 1962 Himalayan war. Skirmishes have continued to break out sporadically over the years. Four Chinese and 20 Indian soldiers died in June 2020, in the deadliest clash in decades.

Beijing has also improved cooperation with Russia – especially on the military front – whenever China has faced setbacks in its relations with the major Western democracies. In December, the two countries signed a 10-year extension to their agreement on mutual launch notifications of ballistic missiles and space rockets.

China also took part last year in Russia’s International Army Games, as well as the Kavkaz-2020 large scale military exercise. The two countries held their second joint aerial strategic patrol in the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea in December. Their first joint patrol of the area took place in July 2019.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation between the two countries.

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