Continuing the recent high-level bilateral visits, Indian army chief General Bikram Singh is expected to reach Beijing on Tuesday for a four-day tour termed by officials here as a “rare” one.
The last Indian army chief to visit China was General NC Vij in 2005 and Singh’s visit, which was officially announced by the Chinese defence ministry last week, is expected to inject a dose of confidence in the often indifferent relations between two of the largest armed forces in the world.
It was only last year that the bilateral military exercise between the two armies, an anti-terrorism module, called Hand-in-Hand, was revived after years for the third installment in south China. Among other things, Singh’s visit is likely to finalise details of the fourth installment of the exercise in November in India.
Singh’s China visit comes within months of another rare one from the Chinese side: the two-day visit of Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, Deputy Chief of General Staff (Operations) of the People’s Liberation Army in April. In the PLA hierarchy, Qi’s position is considered a strategic one.
China has also confirmed the visit of defence minister General Chang Wanquan to India later this year.
During Singh’s visit, sharp focus will be trained on his one-on-one meeting with General Fan Changlong, the Vice Chairman of China's Central Military Commission (CMC), the powerful organisation, headed by President Xi Jinping as its chairperson that oversees the Communist country’s military affairs. Fan is the senior-most uniformed officer in the CMC.
Both the Chinese defence ministry and Indian officials here were tightlipped about the agenda of the meeting between Singh and Fan. Broadly, it is expected to focus on strengthening communication between the two militaries both at the ground and command levels.
Smooth communication, officials said, is the key in preventing or resolving flare-ups along the over-4000 km long disputed Sino-India border, especially because the boundary is not formally mapped in many places.
Singh’s visit will also be an opportunity to review the implementation of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) signed during former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing last October. The BDCA provided a framework for closer military contacts at ground level and laid out, among other things, protocols for patrolling the border.
“General Singh, also chair of the committee of chiefs of staff of the Indian armed forces, will exchange views with Chinese leaders on bilateral ties, regional security and other issues of common concern,” defence minister spokesperson Yang Yujun told Chinese media.
Singh is also expected to address the prestigious PLA Academy.