India, China militaries ease tensions; to resume joint exercises

Thursday, 6 September 2012 00:43 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

NEW DELHI (Reuters): India and China plan to restart joint military exercises soon, Indian officials said on Tuesday, as visiting Chinese defence minister General Liang Guanglie sought to soothe New Delhi’s nerves about Beijing’s growing footprint in South Asia.

On the first trip by a Chinese defence minister to New Delhi in eight years, Liang and his Indian counterpart discussed security in the Asia-Pacific region, where India’s competition for resources and influence has added to Chinese concerns about the US ‘pivot’ to Asia.

Liang’s visit comes at a time when Beijing is grappling with a change of leadership and friction in the South China Sea. It should help avoid flare-ups along China’s long and heavily fortified border with India.

“We have reached the very important consensus of further promoting the friendly, strategic and cooperated partnership between the two countries and promoting friendly exchanges and cooperation between the two armed forces,” Liang told reporters outside the Indian defence ministry.

Nuclear-armed neighbours India and China – the world’s largest countries by population – disagree on where their Himalayan border lies and fought a brief war fifty years ago. As rising superpowers with large and fast-growing militaries, their relationship and ties to Washington influence Asian security.

Over the past two decades, economic relations have normalised. The defence relationship has improved but remains prickly. After two rounds that started in 2007, joint military exercises of around 100 personnel were suspended four years ago after a spat over visas.

India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the exercises will resume “at the earliest,” but didn’t give any timeline. Indian and Chinese ships conducted their first joint naval practices in June, but they were not considered part of the regular joint military exercises.

Antony also said he had accepted an invitation to visit Beijing.

During a week-long tour that included a stop in Sri Lanka, Liang sought to calm India’s fears about Chinese military and infrastructure aid to other countries in the region, and he denied rumours of a Chinese army presence in parts of Pakistan claimed by India. “I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify to you once again: the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has never deployed a single soldier in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir,” he told the Hindu newspaper.

While in Sri Lanka, he said China’s efforts to build close ties with South Asian nations were not aimed at any third party.

Both China and India say they are committed to attaining prosperity via peaceful means. Business relations are booming and trade flows have reached an annual $75.5 billion, up from just $3 billion a decade ago. Trade is skewed in China’s favour.

India courts close ties with Vietnam. Its exploration of an oil block in the South China Sea has needled Beijing, which claims the sovereignty over almost all of the sea and has stepped up its military presence there.