Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma will visit China next month to discuss plans for a larger joint military exercise.

The decision received political clearance during a meeting between Defence Minister A.K. Antony and his outgoing Chinese counterpart Gen Liang Guanglie in September.

Mr. Sharma would head a tri-service delegation on January 14-15 as part of the 5th Annual Defence Dialogue, said government sources. He would also look at a proposal for joint maritime search and rescue exercises between the navies and strengthening the collaboration in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

The two countries held a joint army exercise in 2007 after a planning process that lasted three years with the aim of making the ‘Hand-in-Hand’ exercise a regular feature.

The second such exercise was held the next year, but the next edition could not be staged as India put on hold contacts between high-ranking defence personnel after an incident involving denial of visa to the Northern Army Commander, who was to lead a military delegation to China.

But with increased contacts and confidence built by the annual defence dialogue, the sources expect the next army-level joint exercise to be held by next year.

Visa issue

While the two sides have been regularly holding flag meetings on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), visa related hiccups have tended to overshadow as well as inhibit closer defence ties. China still refuses visas to Army officers from Arunachal Pradesh.

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