India, China to resume military exercises; Antony to visit Beijing


New Delhi : Against the backdrop of an imminent once-in-a-decade leadership transition in Beijing, India and China Tuesday decided to resume their stalled joint military exercises “at the earliest” and boost security cooperation to sustain peace and tranquility in border areas.

Support TwoCircles

The two rising Asian powers also focused on building strategic trust in ties that are prone to misunderstandings and agreed to boost confidence-building measures against the projected scenarios of rivalry in the Asian hemisphere and the maritime domain.

The decision to resume joint military exercises, which was stalled in 2010 due to a diplomatic spat over visa issues, was announced after 90-minute talks between Defence Minister A.K. Antony and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Liang Guanglie, the first Chinese defence minister to visit India in eight years.

Terming the talks as “very fruitful and candid”, Antony said he has accepted Liang’s invitation to visit Beijing next year.

“We have decided that (to resume Army-to-Army exercises) and I have also accepted the invitation by him to visit China sometime next year as per mutual convenience,” he told reporters.

Antony added that the two sides held discussions about “improving relations at the border areas and the situation in the South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region”.

“It was agreed by the two sides to conduct the next round of joint military exercises at the earliest,” an Indian defence ministry spokesperson said in a statement. “They also agreed to strengthen border security cooperation between the border troops of the two sides so as to enhance and maintain peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas.”

The two Asian powers held their first joint military exercise in Kunming in China in 2007, followed by a second edition in Belgaum in India in 2008.

India suspended all bilateral defence exercises with China after Beijing denied a visa to the then Northern Army Commander, Lt. Gen. B.S Jaswal, on the grounds that he was posted in Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed area which is claimed by Pakistan.

The military ties resumed late last year with both sides underlining the need for building greater strategic trust.

The two ministers focused on greater confidence building measures and coordination among their militaries in the sensitive border areas, where China has built massive infrastructure on its side of the frontier.

The Chinese side is understood to have allayed New Delhi’s concerns over Beijing’s massive-military infrastructure build-up along the border and stressed on greater cooperation to avoid misunderstandings.

“We have reached important consensus on strategic issues and for cooperation in promoting friendly ties, including between our armed forces,” Gen. Liang, who is on a four-day visit to India, told reporters through an interpreter.

He added the two sides had also reached agreement and consensus on exchanges between their militaries, including high-level visits, between officers and between their navies and also in maritime security cooperation.

India is also understood to have conveyed its concerns over the enhanced activities of Chinese troops in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir region.

The shifting geopolitical regional dynamics also figured prominently in the discussions. “We covered a lot about the situation in the South Asia, Asia-Pacific region and we have covered a lot of issues,” Antony said. “We had a very frank and heart-to-heart discussion on all the issues… including in the border areas.”

Gen. Liang’s visit to India, barely weeks before the leadership transition gets under way in Beijing, is seen here to signal a desire on the part of China’s political and defence establishment to have a peaceful periphery and hassle-free relations with India.

Significantly, the Chinese defence minister’s visit is taking place three months after US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to New Delhi when he declared India the “lynchpin” of the new American military strategy in Asia.

Analysts have pointed out that the maritime domain and competing ambitions of China in India’s perceived backyard in the Indian Ocean and India’s upswing in its relations with China’s neighbours like Vietnam could potentially be a source of friction between the two Asian giants.