New Delhi: India and China on Thursday agreed to boost interaction between their armed forces and operationalise a hotline to step up strategic communication. The two Asian giants were engaged in a tense military standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam region last year.
At a meeting between Chinese defence minister and state councillor Wei Fenghe and Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the two countries decided to expand “the engagement between their armed forces relating to training, joint exercises and other professional interactions", according to a statement from the Indian defence ministry.
Wei was given a ceremonial welcome in New Delhi when he arrived for talks with Sitharaman. The Chinese minister, who arrived on Tuesday, had called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi the same day. Wei also holds the rank of state councillor and is a member of the powerful Central Military Commission.
His visit follows an “informal" summit between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April that paved the way for India to launch a “course correction" in its ties with China.
People familiar with the developments say India’s rethink on its China policy is aimed at ensuring stability along its borders as well as enhancing trust between the neighbours who have traditionally have been suspicious of each other.
While India has been uncomfortable with China’s close ties with Pakistan and its own unresolved border dispute with China, Beijing has been wary of India’s ties with countries such as the US and Japan. India has also objected to, what it calls, frequent incursions into Indian territory by the China People’s Liberation Army.
During the Wuhan summit, Modi and Xi had agreed to improve strategic communication to ensure a faceoff like the Doklam standoff does not recur.
The standoff was seen as the effect of differences in perception between India, Bhutan and China about where the border lies. India and China have a 3,500 km-long border, much of which is not delineated. The two countries have had 20 rounds of talks on the matter, but have not been able to resolve the issue.
The Indian defence ministry said: “Both sides also decided to work towards a new bilateral MOU (memorandum of understanding) on defence exchanges and cooperation to replace the MOU signed in 2006."
The two ministers also “discussed issues relating to the border areas. It was agreed to work towards the full implementation of ongoing confidence building measures as well as (have) greater interaction at the working level to ensure maintenance of peace and tranquility", including the setting up of a hotline, according to the statement.
According to the Indian army, New Delhi was of the view that the hotline should link its Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and his equivalent official in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). However, Beijing has proposed that the hotline should link the deputy commander of its Chengdu-based Western Theatre Command with the Indian DGMO.
C.U. Bhaskar, director at the Society for Policy Studies think tank in New Delhi, pointed out that India and China, despite their differences in perception of where their border lay, “haven’t fired a single shot at each other for three decades."
Both Wei and Sitharaman would have been aiming to ensure that this remained so “with no flareup along the border." Both ministers would have been working to ensure “that sanctity is maintained", Bhaskar said.