New Delhi, March 22: India and China today decided to revive joint army exercises and friendly military exchanges in the first high-level meeting since a new generation of leaders took over in Beijing this month.
But a proposal to have “hotline” telephone contacts between military commands of the Indian and Chinese armies has been left to be resolved at a later date, possibly during a scheduled visit to Beijing by defence minister A.K. Antony next month.
The Joint Army Exercises, named “Hand-in-Hand”, were shelved after two editions in 2007 and 2008 following a deepening of differences over visas, the visit of an Indian army commander to China, China’s objection to the Indian defence minister’s visit to Arunachal and reports of transgressions along the unsettled 4,000km-plus Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army, Lt Gen. Qi Jianguo met defence secretary Shashikant Sharma and called on defence minister Antony here today.
“Both sides have agreed to finalise the plan of bilateral exchanges between the armed forces of India and China,” ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said.
While the armies of India and China have a joint military drill, the navies and the air forces have courtesy visits, either of ships or of top-ranking officers.
Between 2009 and 2012, India and China have sustained a relationship that is buttressed more by commercial considerations than by the disputed international boundary. The friendly military exchanges were symbolic of an eagerness to persist with a non-confrontationist policy. But the suspension of “Exercise Hand-in-Hand” after just two editions — the most visible of the friendly symbols — indicated that differences ran more deeply than New Delhi and Beijing claimed.
But today’s decision comes after backroom discussions at the secretary and military levels that began September last year. The third edition of “Exercise Hand-in-Hand” is likely to be held in Kunming, China, later this year.
“It was also agreed that the strengthening of exchanges between the armed forces should be carried out as a way of building mutual trust and confidence and is consistent with the overall bilateral relationship between both countries,” a defence ministry note said.
Ministry sources said implementation of measures to ensure peace along the LAC also figured in the talks today.