India and China on Thursday concluded a two-day defence dialogue, exploring new ways the two countries’ militaries could better build confidence against a backdrop of rising border tensions.

Officials said Thursday’s talks saw “positive progress”, with both sides discussing new confidence building measures and a joint military exercise which will be held later this year.

Defence secretary Pradeep Kumar held talks with the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) deputy chief of general staff, Ma Xiaotian, on Wednesday, and met Defence Minister Liang Guanglie on Thursday.

Mr. Kumar told his Chinese interlocutors India was willing to work with China to strengthen mutual trust and “increase consensus”, as well as expand co-operation on security issues. He said the two countries would push forward military exchanges “on the basis of mutual respect and mutual trust.”

‘Chance to clarify’

Mr. Ma said the talks gave the two sides a chance to “clarify concerns, deepen mutual trust and coordinate stances.”

Officials familiar with the discussions said regional security issues, including the recent tensions along the disputed border and the two countries’ naval strategies, were on the agenda. This week’s meeting was the third round of the annual bilateral Sino-Indian Defence Dialogue, which began in December 2007, but was viewed by both officials and strategic analysts in both countries with particular significance.

The talks take place after a period of strained relations between the two neighbours, with a number of media reports in India suggesting increased incursions by Chinese troops along the disputed border. Mr. Kumar’s is also the first ever visit by an Indian defence secretary to China.

In Thursday’s talks, Mr. Liang called on both governments to do more to “exert a positive impact on media and public opinion,” to improve the recently strained atmosphere between the two countries, State-run Xinhua news agency reported.

It is understood that the two sides discussed the recent tensions, and stressed the need to maintain existing confidence building measures (CBMs), such as local-level brigadier meetings and regular exchanges along the Line of Actual Control, the effective demarcation along the border.

Both sides also agreed to increase the frequency of exchanges to improve transparency and reduce mistrust. Last year has seen both countries intensify efforts to improve military communication, with PLA General Wu Quanxu visiting India’s Eastern Command and an Indian Army delegation visiting Tibet and the PLA base in Chengdu.

The first round of the annual defence dialogue was held in December 2007, when the two militaries also conducted a joint exercise in Yunnan, in China’s southwest. The second round of talks was held in Belgaum, Karnataka.

The timing of this round, amid renewed strains in bilateral ties, has placed added significance on this week’s talks, analysts said. “There is a substantial difference because both civil and military leaderships realise the continuing uncertainty on the border is not in the interests of both countries,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, chairman of the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “They have now renewed efforts to push CBMs forward.”

Strategic analysts in China viewed the dialogue as an opportunity for the two countries to turn the corner. “The current situation is not very bright, and we have seen negative trends, especially in the media of both countries,” said Zhao Gancheng, director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. “In this context, this kind of defence dialogue, and a push to increase exchanges, is a positive development that will increase mutual understanding.”

Keywords: IndiaChinadefence talks

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