The Chinese government said on Thursday it was “vigorously committed” to developing military ties with India, drawing a line over nine months of strained defence ties and indicating it was in favour of expanding military-to-military contacts.

The two countries on Wednesday agreed to resume defence exchanges following a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao, along the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Sanya, in southern China's Hainan province.

Defence exchanges were suspended in July last, when China voiced objections to issuing a regular visa to the head of the Army's Northern Command, saying the “sensitive” region of Kashmir was under his control. Since 2008, China has been issuing stapled visa to Indian citizens in Jammu and Kashmir, a move that Indian officials felt is tantamount to questioning Indian sovereignty over the State, and one that has strained diplomatic ties.

“India is an important neighbour of China. China is vigorously committed to developing military-to-military relations with India,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said on Thursday.

“China always values our military exchanges with India, and believes the two sides could proceed from the overall interest of bilateral relations, and follow the principle of seeking for common ground while solving differences, to promote the sound and stable development of our military relations,” he said.

According to Indian officials, China had agreed to receive a delegation comprising officers from the Northern Command later this year, and will issue them regular visas. China has not issued stapled visas since November, Indian officials said adding that it was not, however, clear whether the policy had been stopped.

Mr. Hong did not reply to a question on whether China had indeed withdrawn the stapled visa policy, or whether it was merely making an exception to allow exchanges to resume. He said: “For issues relating to people-to-people exchanges in our relations, we are ready to properly solve these issues through friendly consultation.”

The resumption of exchanges would allow both countries to address persisting mistrust, said Zhao Gancheng, Director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

“I think the two sides have successfully resolved problems, including I think, the stapled visa issue,” he said. “Resuming exchanges is useful and helpful in improving mutual understanding on security issues, and to get better perceptions of what both sides are thinking about.”

He said the two countries should, at once, resume holding joint exercises. “We have had three naval exercises, and one or two army exercises on counter-terrorism. We have not yet conducted any joint exercise between the air forces. Perhaps this is the time for the two sides to resume these exercises, which is useful for both countries to get a better understanding of each other.”

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