| Flag officer commanding of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet, Rear Admiral R.P. Suthan, being welcomed in Shanghai on Monday. (PTI)
Beijing, Nov. 14 (Reuters): China and India, building on a new strategic alliance, staged their first joint naval exercise today, just weeks after the Chinese navy held a similar drill with Pakistan.
Nuclear-armed India and China agreed to hold the one-day exercise — and seek a speedy end to a decades-old border dispute — during a visit by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in June, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in a decade.
Ties between the world’s two most populous nations, frosty since their brief border war in 1962, have been warming in recent years.
Zhang Minqiu, a professor of international relations at Peking University, said the exercise was a significant step in a long and deliberate process by China to balance its relations with India and traditional ally Pakistan. “I think Pakistan should welcome this policy, India should welcome it. If China supports only one side, it makes relations between them more tense,” she said.
Today’s naval exercise also marked a “big progress for Sino-Indian ties” given the fact India first proposed similar exercises in the early 1990s, but China declined to engage, she added. “It’s an expression of the healthy relations between them.”
The exercise, involving three Indian ships, was aimed at ensuring the safety of maritime trade and improving coordination in search-and-rescue at sea, the Indian defence ministry said in a statement.
“India and China are the two most populous countries in the world,” the Indian embassy said in a separate statement. “...Our capabilities are well known and provide the opportunity to share experiences and cooperation. Such cooperation will have a positive impact not only on the livelihood of our people, but also in the world at large.”
The drill comes as China has raised its profile on the world stage, putting a man in space, hosting six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis and managing one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. China is to host the Olympic Games in 2008, and India the Commonwealth Games two years later.
China is Pakistan’s main supplier of military hardware and analysts believe Beijing also helped Islamabad in its nuclear weapons programme. The China-Pakistan exercises preceded a visit to Beijing by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
But India and China see huge potential in economic ties. Indian imports of Chinese goods by far outstrip India’s exports to China, but business leaders believe Beijing’s booming economy will offer an increasingly attractive export market as it opens up to international trade.
Navy chief-US talks
Naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh, now in Singapore, has held extensive interaction with top naval officials from US Seventh Fleet, Chinese South Sea Fleet and others on board INS Brahmaputra. The indigenously-made Brahmaputra has been turned into the naval chief flagship for the duration of his visit.