India, China military ties to get new impetus this year

By Ritu Sharma, IANS,

New Delhi : The navies and the air forces of India and China are seeking to engage with each other for the first time this year to build up on the goodwill generated by the first joint exercise between the two armies last year.

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In this endeavour, the chief of the Navy of the People’s Republic of China, Wu Shengli, will visit India towards the year-end following the visit of the chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major, to China.

“The chief of the navy of the People’s Republic of China will be visiting India in November- end this year to discuss the holding of joint exercises,” a senior Navy official told IANS.

Indian and Chinese warships have already been making port calls in each other’s countries as part of growing confidence-building measures between the two sides. The Indian Navy has long expressed apprehensions about the Chinese Navy’s incursions into the Indian Ocean region and hopes to “blunt” its thrust into this area through engagement.

“There has been talk of enhanced defence cooperation between the two countries and right now the balance of visits to the other country is tilted on the Indian side.

“The visit of the Chinese Navy chief will give a fresh impetus to military cooperation between two countries,” added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

India and China fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962. More recently, they have taken a series of steps to thaw their relations, including strengthening of military ties.

The IAF chief’s visit to China will precede the visit of the Chinese naval chief.

“The IAF chief will visit China in October-end or in the first week of November this year. His visit is likely to coincide with the visit of IAF’s aerobatics flying display team Surya Kiran’s visit to China,” an IAF official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Surya Kiran team will perform in China, probably some time in October or November.

“This will be a goodwill trip. Any IAF exercise with China is likely to take place only after that,” the IAF official added.

The Surya Kiran team of 11 aircraft and their pilots is the daredevil aerobatics team of the IAF that has performed in several countries around the world and amazed audiences with its skill.

Discussions between India and China are also expected here soon to finalise the modalities and venue for joint army exercises to be held in India later this year.

During his visit to the border post of Longewala in February this year, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had stated that the next India-China joint army exercises would be held in India. This would be the second such joint army exercise between the two countries. The first India-China joint army exercise was held in China in December last year near the city of Kunming.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between India and China in May 2006 during a visit by the then defence minister (and current external affairs minister) Pranab Mukherjee that stipulated that the two countries would hold joint military exercises, join forces in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts and also cooperate in search and rescue operations.