China, India annual defense dialogue underway

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-07 06:56
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China and India yesterday resumed its annual high-level bilateral talks on defense issues - the first time ever that the Indian defense secretary has visited Beijing for the military dialogue between the Asian neighbors.

The People's Liberation Army Deputy Chief of General Staff Ma Xiaotian and Indian Defense Secretary Pradeep Kumar jointly presided over yesterday's negotiations, which are expected to last through today.

Senior defense officials from India have accompanied Kumar on his trip.

The neighbors agreed on many issues of mutual concern, including "regional security, and relations between the two militaries", according to a press release issued by the Ministry of National Defense yesterday.

The dialogue is a good platform for both sides to "clarify concerns, deepen mutual trust and coordinate stances," the release quoted Ma, while Kumar said India was keen to expand the scope of defense and security cooperation with China. No further details were released.

Chinese defense experts and the Indian media said the annual talks this time round would touch upon the sensitive border issue and India's concerns over the Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

This is the third such annual dialogue between the Asian powers.

The first was held in 2008 amid escalating tensions over infrastructure construction along both countries' border.

China, India annual defense dialogue underway

Ma Xiaotian (right), deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, greets Indian Defense Secretary Pradeep Kumar yesterday in Beijing. Song Jihe 

The border issue stretches back to colonial British rule. China and India share a nearly-2,000 km border and disputed areas cover about 125,000 sq km on both sides.

A leading Indian economic daily, the Financial Express, this week quoted unnamed sources as saying that the previous dialogues had been exploratory in nature, with both sides not touching upon the boundary question or other controversial claims.

"In fact, there was hardly any conversation even on new confidence building measures. The focus, rather, was on maritime cooperation in and around the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy, with the Chinese side using the opportunity to repeat their concerns over Tibetan political activities in India," the newspaper said.

Last year was a turning point in military exchanges between the two neighbors - for the first time, Indian military commanders in charge of border defense visited Tibet, as well as the Chengdu Military Command.

Following the trip, the Chinese military commander in charge of Tibet visited India and was taken to the Eastern Army Command.

Border security is highly likely to figure during the ongoing talks, said Fu Xiaoqiang, a scholar of South Asia studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"It's a good opportunity. Trust building between the two militaries is key to easing border disputes," he said.

Indian sources told the Financial Express that the talks have raised hopes about improved coordination along the Line of Actual Control, which will better address differences in perception regarding the border until a permanent solution is reached.

The sources also said the annual forum would touch upon India's concern over China's naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese Navy has sent some ships to waters off Somalia to protect its and foreign merchant vessels from attacks by pirates.

During the visit, Kumar is also expected to meet top officials of the PLA.

(China Daily 01/07/2010 page11)