India, China take measured steps to strengthen military ties, enhance exchanges

India and China have decided to enhance reciprocal high-level visits and joint training exercises for the military – two of the world’s largest .
India and China have decided to enhance reciprocal high-level visits and joint training exercises for the military – two of the world’s largest .(HT file photo)
India and China have decided to enhance reciprocal high-level visits and joint training exercises for the military – two of the world’s largest .(HT file photo)
Updated on Nov 15, 2018 10:25 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Beijing | BySutirtho Patranobis

India and China, who share a disputed border and a history of hostility between them, have agreed to expand bilateral exchanges involving top generals as well as young army officers in a bid to strengthen communication between their armies.

Reciprocal high-level visits and joint training exercises for the military – two of the world’s largest – will also be enhanced, New Delhi and Beijing have decided.

These issues were in focus when top defence officials of the two countries met for the 9th India-China Annual Defence and Security Dialogue in Beijing this week.

The agreements were necessary to build strong military-to-military ties, which in turn is “…necessary to strengthen political and strategic mutual trust,” officials at the dialogue concluded.

There was, however, no official word whether India and China had reached an agreement on setting up a hotline between the Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Details of the agreements weren’t shared either.

The statement from the Indian embassy reflected the easing of defence ties.

“Both sides agreed to enhance exchanges and interactions through reciprocal high-level visits between the two ministries of defence as well as between military commands, joint training exercises, mutual visits by defence personnel including mid-level and cadet officers were also agreed upon,” the statement said.

“Both sides reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas, implementing the consensus of PM Modi and President Xi Jinping, and specific additional Confidence Building Measures at the operational level,” it said.

“They emphasised the need to further strengthen military-to-military ties in order to strengthen political and strategic mutual trust between the two countries,” it also said.

Instituted as an annual dialogue, the latest one was reconvened after a gap of two years – the intervening period saw border troops from India and China locked in a 73-day standoff at Doklam (Donglang in Chinese) near the Sikkim border from June to August in 2017.

Since the resolution of the Doklam standoff, however, bilateral defence ties seems to have improved, spurred possibly by the realisation that neither country can afford even a skirmish amid a volatile world order and unpredictable economic conditions.

The informal Wuhan summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in central China in April laid down a path forward on how to ease military tension.

Both leaders had agreed to expand and implement confidence-building measures between the two militaries to avoid a Doklam-type situation.

The dialogue was co-chaired by Indian defence secretary Sanjay Mitra and Lt General Shao Yuanming, deputy chief of joint staff department of China’s powerful Central Military Commission.

Mitra called on state councilor and China’s defence minister, General Wei Fenghe, on Thursday. Wei had visited India in August and had met Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman among other top India defence and military officials.

“They specifically talked about setting up an exchange mechanism for visits between the two defence ministries, set up a direct confidential phone line between the two defence ministries, strengthening exchanges at all levels including defence authorities, theatre commands and different services,” defence ministry spokesperson Colonel Wu Qian had said in August about the visit.

“They also talked about setting up a hotline on border issues between adjacent military commands. They also talked about how to better play the role of defence and security consultations mechanism and the meeting mechanism between the working delegations of the defence ministries,” Wu said.

In October, PLA Daily, the armed forces’ mouthpiece had suggested that India and China should expand engagement between front-line units including training for border guards at each other’s universities and open a defence hotline between adjacent military regions to “resolutely” ensure that Doklam-like standoffs don’t recur.

The article, published under the headline “China-India Military Relations Improve Markedly” in the context of the armed forces’ standoff last year near the Sikkim border, said the two countries should establish a regular border meeting mechanism for the generals of the respective theatre commands.

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