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Defense minister spearheads key mission to Asia
A flurry of diplomacy by People's Liberation Army officials is conducive to reducing miscalculations amid recent territorial disputes and neighbors' concerns about China’s military strength, analysts said.
Two senior PLA officials are currently visiting Asian countries. Defense Minister Liang Guanglie started a three-day visit to India on Sunday.
India has territorial disputes with China along their shared border but the first visit by a defense minister in eight years will help ease tensions, analysts said.
Liang is scheduled to meet his counterpart A.K. Antony and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday in New Delhi.
Also on Sunday, a PLA delegation, led by the Deputy Chief of General Staff Ma Xiaotian, left Beijing to visit Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore. Vietnam and Malaysia have claims regarding the South China Sea.
The military and Foreign Ministry have conducted a number of intensive exchanges this year, with the emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. PLA senior military officials have visited about 20 countries.
Cai Yingting, deputy chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army just concluded a visit to the United States.While there, Cai reiterated Beijing's stance over the Diaoyu Islands and opposed any application of the US-Japan security treaty regarding the islands that belong to China.
China is increasingly using military diplomacy to supplement other exchanges, said Meng Xiangqing, deputy director of the Strategic Research Institute at the National Defense University of the PLA.
The central feature of Beijing’s diplomacy is to create a secure region, but "it will not yield when sovereignty and territory are concerned”, he said.
Military exchanges, the most sensitive part of bilateral ties, will help reduce suspicion and enhance mutual trust, said Fu Xiaoqiang, an expert on South Asian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
"We have the ability to defend our waters, and we have not used military force. If we were to do so, it would be as a last resort. We are conducting talks, using diplomatic means and some civilian, law enforcement means, to resolve the conflict. This way is the best," Ma Xiaotian told Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV earlier in Beijing.
Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of political science and a member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was quoted in an article in the Diplomat magazine as saying that Beijing’s diplomatic initiatives should be recognized.
"Although PLA-affiliated media commentators, such as Major General Luo Yuan, have called for China to adopt a more forceful response, uniformed officers such as Ma Xiaotian and Liang Guanglie have not. ... Of course, China will continue to assert its claims. But the PLA’s support for a diplomatic approach and limiting the potential for escalation should be noted,” Fravel told the magazine in June.
Liang’s trip to India is to repair military ties that were strained in 2010 and to play down India’s fears about Chinese activity in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh that India sees as within its sphere of influence, AFP said.
Wan Wei, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science of the PLA said the purpose of Liang’s visit to India is "crystal clear”.
"It is a demonstration of goodwill since military ties between the two countries have witnessed twists and turns."
Liang’s 23-member delegation includes Yang Jinshan, commander of the Tibet autonomous region’s military district bordering India. Fifteen rounds of high-level talks have been held in a bid to resolve the dispute about where the Himalayan border lies.
Both sides will discuss more confidence building measures and ways to strengthen military ties, the Press Trust of India quoted a senior official of the Defense Ministry as saying on Sunday.
Indian and Chinese troops took part in counter-terrorism drills in China in 2007 and in India a year later.
The warming ties also reflect China’s concerns about a military escalation in the South China Sea, and the perception that India is being drawn into the US "pivot” to Asia, which Beijing sees as containment, Jayadeva Ranade, a retired Indian senior civil servant and China analyst told Reuters.
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Xinhua and Wu Jiao contributed to this story.