China on Thursday termed the five-day visit of General Liang Guanglie to India as a success, but declined to comment on the Defence Minister's decision to hand over cash gifts to two Indian Air Force pilots.

Asked about the gift, which has been described as bordering on a violation of protocol, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei: "I am not aware of the specifics".

General Liang had handed over two envelopes containing Rs. 50,000 each to show his appreciation to two IAF pilots who had flown him from Mumbai to New Delhi earlier this week. The Defence Minister concluded

his visit to India on Thursday morning, flying to Laos where he will hold talks before returning to Beijing.

Sources in New Delhi told The Hindu on Wednesday that while it is a normal custom for visiting dignitaries to present mementos as a token of appreciation, cash gifts are rarely offered. Officials suggested that the visiting Defence Minister was probably not briefed on protocol followed in India.

Chinese analysts The Hindu spoke to, who did not want to be named, added that while cash gifts are common in China - they are, in fact, the norm, from tips made by officials to wedding presents - they

agreed that it was important that local protocol be followed. They suggested that it was the responsibility of local Embassies to brief visiting delegates, who might be unaware of specific customs and sensitivities.

"In China, it might be normal for an official to show his appreciation with a "hongbao" [a red envelope cash gift]," said one analyst. "At the same time, it is important that the practice in India be followed in such a situation to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings". The analysts also added that they hoped the minor controversy would not detract from the visit, which has been seen here as giving a much-needed boost to defence ties.

Mr. Hong, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said his visit – the first by a Chinese Defence Minister in eight years - was "successful". "Both sides agreed to push forward China-India relations, step up military-to-military exchanges and work jointly to maintain momentum of China-India relations," he said.

Zhai Dequan, deputy secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the agreement on resuming joint military exercises marked "a warming of military ties", reflecting a willingness of the two countries "to heal their military relations". This was also seen in the visit of four Indian naval vessels to Shanghai in June, he told the official China Daily newspaper.

The visit of General Liang - which was proposed by the People's Liberation Army - showed "an important effort" made to "increase mutual trust and reduce strategic errors", added Ruan Zongze, deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated to the Foreign Ministry, in an interview with the newspaper.

"But there is still a lot of room to improve the level of exchanges between the two militaries," he said, "as the joint exercise themed on anti-terrorism to be resumed next year represents a low level of cooperation."

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