China, India armies inch closer with optimism

Updated: 2007-12-26 06:57

"This is another step to deepen our cooperation and understanding," says Brig. Dadwal of the Indian Army, who is also commander of the Indian troops for the joint training.

Of the armed forces of China and India, the navies took the lead in holding the first-ever joint search-and-rescue exercise just four years ago off the coast of Shanghai, China's commercial hub.

And on August 28, 2004, Chinese and Indian border troops held a joint mountaineering exercise in the border area of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, the first of its kind between the two armed forces.

On May 29, 2006, the defense ministries of China and India signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Exchanges and Cooperation in the Field of Defense, which provides a sound foundation and institutional framework for further development of defense cooperation.

The MOU led to the joint training exercise in Kunming as its "logical outcome," Dadwal says.

In November, meanwhile, China and India held their first Annual Defense Dialogue in Beijing.

Their bilateral military cooperation also includes attending training courses at each other's military facilities, high-level visits of military establishments and allowing observers at military exercises, according to Wu Xiaoyi, deputy director of the Asian Affairs Bureau under the Foreign Affairs Office of China's Defense Ministry.

"The Indian and Chinese troops on the border have been enjoying good relations, attending ceremonies and festivals and having other friendly exchanges," he says.

The expanding contacts and exchanges in the military field are actually being achieved against the backdrop of improving political and economic relations dating back to the 1990s.

As the two most populous and largest developing countries in the world, the Asian neighbors shared a long, friendly history until the 1960s, when they clashed over border issues.

Relations began to improve in 1976, when the two governments resumed the exchange of ambassadors. But it was not until the 1990s that political relations got onto a steady track and flourished, as characterized by frequent high-level visits.

Economic links have been strengthened with the warming political ties. Bilateral trade reached 24.86 billion U.S. dollars last year, up 32.9 percent year-on-year. In 1991, the figure was a mere 264 million U.S. dollars. China is now India's second largest trading partner, while India is China's 10th largest trading partner.

"Military-to-military relationships are an important part of diplomacy, and I'm certain that this joint training exercise will go a long way in improving bilateral relations," says Lt. Gen. Susheel Gupta, deputy chief of the Indian Army Staff and also head of the Indian military observer delegation to the training in Kunming.

He was responding to a question about the possible impact of the joint exercise on a planned China visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next month, which has yet to be officially finalized.

Diplomatic observers generally speak positively of the first-ever joint training between the two armies.

"It is great progress. It demonstrates that the military mutual-trust has markedly improved, which is beneficial to regional security," says Ye Hailin, a scholar with the Asia-Pacific Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Ma Jiali, a research fellow of the Academy of China Contemporary International Relations, says the military relationship between China and India is like half a glass of water.

"Optimists will say 'we're lucky to have half a glass of water', while pessimists will sigh and say 'we have only half a glass'," Ma says.

"In any case," he adds "the first-ever military training between the two armies will help boost the bilateral relations of China and India."

There are border issues yet to be resolved, because the two sides have different stances and take different approaches to problems, acknowledges Ma Xiaotian, head of the Chinese military observer delegation to the joint training in Kunming.

"China insists on solving problems through negotiation, which requires communication and understanding between the two sides," says Ma, who is also PLA General Staff.

The joint exercises will play an active role in enhancing understanding and trust and deepening defense exchanges and cooperation, he says.

By the end of the 5-day training, "friend" in Chinese, English and Hindi has become a popular word between the two armies.

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