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Indian Army chief in China on ‘goodwill’ visit, to meet top officers

Indian Army chief general Dalbir Singh will visit the eastern theatre command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Nanjing during his four-day China visit, which began on Monday, besides meeting the vice-chairperson of their powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).

india Updated: Nov 21, 2016 18:58 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Indian Army chief general Dalbir Singh will visit the eastern theatre command of the People’s Liberation Army in Nanjing during his four-day China visit.
Indian Army chief general Dalbir Singh will visit the eastern theatre command of the People’s Liberation Army in Nanjing during his four-day China visit.(HT File Photo)

Indian army chief Gen Dalbir Singh will hold talks with China’s military leadership during his four-day visit, which began on Monday, in a bid to convey the message that lines of communications remained open despite differences between the two countries.

Singh will visit the PLA’s eastern theatre command in Nanjing and hold talks with senior officers, including one of the vice-chairpersons of China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).

The trip is not expected to result in any major upswing in military ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

However, the visit, which will follow standard protocol laid down for a visiting army chief, has been drawn up to convey a positive message – despite differences between the two countries on multiple issues, lines of communications were open at the top.

On Monday, Singh called on Gen Xu Qiliang, vice-chairperson of the CMC. “During the call on, both of them reiterated their desire to keep up the momentum of defence exchanges and the need to keep the borders tranquil and peaceful,” said a statement from the Indian embassy.

Earlier in the day, Singh met the PLA Army Commander, Gen Li Zuocheng, and held talks of “mutual interest”.

A number of issues, including incursions by PLA personnel along the disputed border and China’s – including possibly its military’s – close involvement in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running through PoK are likely to have figured in these meetings.

Read | Indian, Chinese troops in standoff at Ladakh over canal construction

Singh, who is heading a delegation of senior officers, is the highest ranking Indian military official to travel to China on a “goodwill visit” after reforms of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were initiated by President Xi Jinping earlier this year.

The changes saw the restructuring of seven former military region commands into five new “battle zone commands” for the north, south, east, west and central regions.

Singh will visit the prestigious Army Command College and tour the headquarters of the eastern theatre command in Nanjing and interact with its commander, Gen Liu Yuejun. He will also visit key military installations in Xian

Military ties have been tenuous at the best of times, especially against the backdrop of the border dispute and a lack of mutual trust in political relations. The Chinese military’s strong ties with its Pakistani counterpart have not helped either.

Smooth communication between officers of the two armies is key to resolving flare-ups along the border, especially because the frontier is not formally mapped at many places.

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“The visit aims at engaging China on subjects of mutual concern and shared interest, which include terrorism, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping training,” an earlier statement from the Indian embassy had said.

“The visit also coincides with a joint military exercise (Exercise Hand-in-Hand), between the two armies which is underway in Pune and will be followed by a visit of General Zhao Zongqi, Commander, Western Theatre Command of PLA, in the second week of December 2016,” it said.

The statement added that Singh’s visit is an opportunity to “re-engage PLA in field of defence cooperation and build upon existing mutual cooperation and trust between the two nations”.

Gen Bikram Singh was the last Indian Army chief to visit China in 2014. His trip came nine years after a visit by Gen NC Vij in 2005. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar had visited China in April.

It was only in 2013 that a bilateral military exercise, an anti-terrorism engagement called Hand-in-Hand, was revived years after it was suspended because of differences over the border issue.