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Differences or not, chance to communicate
Indian and Chinese commanders during the closing ceremony. (PTI)

Yangmei Mountains (East of Kunming), Dec. 25: India and China today ended their first joint war game in a flash of gunfire in these highlands, emphasising that it is possible for armies facing each other across a long and tenuous border to engage “hand in hand”.

“It is true that there are pending questions between India and China. We have different stands and approaches and we have our own interests,” said the leader of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army observer group, Lieutenant General Ma Xiao Tian. Lt General Ma is the deputy chief of general staff of the PLA.

The war game that climaxed and concluded before the officer spoke was drawn up in a scenario in which Indian and Chinese forces operate together to neutralise terrorists who have infiltrated the border between the two countries. In real life, there is no known report of such a development.

“It has been the Chinese government’s continuous stand that disputes and differences should be resolved through consultations and negotiations. We need to understand each other and communicate with each other. So through this kind of mutual communication and understanding, we can know more about the other side,” Lt General Ma said.

The general was responding to a question from an Indian journalist. An army interpreter was translating his answer into English. The question asked was: what impact will joint military drills have on pending border disputes between the two neighbours.

“The dialogue between the two armed forces and for an objective such as anti-terrorism is a very important platform to strengthen mutual understanding,” he added.

India and China are likely to have a joint drill in India in 2008. But neither side has officially confirmed it yet. Lt General Ma’s counterpart, Lt General Susheel Gupta said he hoped such exchanges would gather pace. Lt General Gupta is the deputy chief of the Indian army.

“Our Prime Minister is expected to visit China shortly though the dates have not been fixed,” the Indian general said in answer to another question.

“Military-to-military cooperation is an important aspect of diplomacy, a part of the 10-point strategy for our relations (with China) and also flows from a memorandum of understanding between our two defence ministers signed last year. I am certain this (the exercise that ended today) will set the pace. As for other issues, they are being discussed by the special representatives and are taken up at the political level,” he said.

The Indian officer was referring to the joint working group headed by special representatives of the two governments to discuss a resolution of border claims and counter-claims.

Indian and Chinese military personnel meet at regular intervals on the border. The agreement on confidence building measures between the two sides also envisages joint drills.

The PLA deputy chief, Ma, said China will encourage more military exchanges on specific issues — such as Exercise Hand in Hand which focused on counter-terrorism —“on the basis of mutual respect, consultation and mutual benefits”.

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