India, China to push military exchanges amid mistrust

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India and China have agreed to boost exchanges between their two militaries, including expanded professional contact between Air Forces and Navies, as they look to address the persisting strategic mistrust.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony and his counterpart, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Chang Wanquan, also firmed up plans to hold the first joint military exercises between the two countries since 2008, to be held in October in China, as they met for talks here.

Mr. Antony, who is here on a two-day visit, held delegation-level talks with General Chang, and also met with Premier and second-ranked leader Li Keqiang at the Central leadership compound, Zhongnanhai.

The Defence Minister was accompanied by Defence Secretary R.K. Mathur, Lieutenant General Dalbir Singh of the Eastern Command and Vice-Admiral Satish Soni of the Southern Command.

General Chang welcomed the Minister with a formal guard of honour ceremony at the Bayi (August 1st) building — the PLA’s sprawling central Beijing headquarters — named after its founding date.

He said Mr. Antony’s visit would “further enhance strategic communications and mutual trust and promote the healthy and stable development of relations between the two countries and the two militaries”.

Mr. Antony’s visit is the first by a Defence Minister from India since 2006, when Pranab Mukherjee visited Beijing and the northwestern Lanzhou Military Region.

His visit comes amid renewed attention on the border, following the April 15 incursion by Chinese troops at Depsang, in eastern Ladakh, which sparked a stand-off that took three weeks to resolve.

Asked if the Depsang incident had come up duringtalks, Mr. Antony said: “When we are discussing for a long time, we will discuss everything,” he said.

Both sides did, however, acknowledge the need to take “measures to strengthen communication and coordination at various levels between the border guarding forces”, according to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry. They also agreed to make joint efforts to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border.

Mr. Antony said he was “satisfied” with Friday’s talks, but added there would be further discussions on Saturday, when he will meet Chinese State Councillor and top diplomat Yang Jiechi. Mr. Antony will also visit a PLA Air Force unit in Tianjin, a port city near here.

Mr. Antony played down the comments made by hard-line PLA Major General Luo Yuan on Thursday, who in an interaction with journalists warned India to not “stir up” trouble along the border. Chinese officials have emphasised that Major General Luo, who is known here for his particularly hawkish views, did not represent the official viewpoint.

“My discussions were with official people,” Mr. Antony said when asked about the comments.

He added that Premier Li had “again reiterated that the new leadership in China gives much importance to strengthening and expanding the relations with India”.

“He told me he consciously took India as his first overseas destination after assuming [office] as Prime Minister of China,” he said. “This was to send a signal to everybody that the Chinese new leadership wants very cordial and friendly relations with India”

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