Training in foreign languages and cultures should be bolstered for border staff to safeguard the Chinese frontier and coastal regions, military deputies attending the annual assembly of the National People’s Congress have urged.

Courses in the languages of major neighboring countries and ethnic minorities with flexible syllabi should be made available to members of the People’s Liberation Army regiments and battalions deployed to guard the 22,117-kilometer-long border that China shares with 20 countries, second to none in the world in terms of length.

Most border and coastal defense troops are still inept at communicating in foreign languages, one battalion commander admitted to the PLA Daily.

A lack of well-versed interpreters has further complicated the issue, when more often than not PLA soldiers stationed in border areas can only point and gesticulate toward their foreign counterparts, and fierce stares and even scuffles resulting from miscommunication are not uncommon.

Priority will be given to languages spoken by major neighboring powers, such as Russian, Hindi, Mongolian, Burmese and Korean, as well as the Uighur and Tibetan languages.

About 400 students graduated from a five-month training program in Uighur and other Turkic languages last month in Xinjiang, who will be sent to frontline units of PLA garrisons throughout the autonomous region, which borders Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, China Military Online reported.

“Soldiers are also expected to brush up their understanding in geopolitics, history and current affairs so that border defense personnel can not only win battles but also be better at knowing, communicating and managing border issues,” a PLA delegate told the NPC.

India has rolled out Mandarin courses to prepare its own troops for future disputes and talks with Chinese counterparts, especially as the contentious Doklam Plateau border issue remains unresolved.