Annual defence dialogue marks start of India’s engagement with new PLA leadership

India and China have agreed to hold their first joint military exercise in five years and to expand exchanges between their Armies, Navies and Air Forces.

The decisions were made at the fifth annual defence dialogue which took place here on Monday against the backdrop of recently warming military ties following a period of strains.

At the dialogue, Defence Secretary Sashi Kant Sharma and Chinese Deputy Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo reached an agreement “upon a plan of bilateral military exchanges for 2013 including their next joint military exercise,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

The two sides also agreed to expand exchanges covering their Armies, Navies and Air Forces, and reviewed the measures in place to maintain peace along the disputed border.

The dialogue had assumed significance as it marked India’s first military engagement with China following the sweeping changes in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) last year, as part of the once in a 10 year leadership transition.

The former Deputy Chief of General Staff, Ma Xiaotian, who chaired the earlier rounds of the dialogue, was promoted in October as Air Force Chief. Lieutenant General Qi, who has taken over as the Chinese chair of the dialogue, was appointed as Deputy Chief of General Staff last year.

The dialogue also paves the way for the resumption of joint military exercises, which are set to be held later this year, following a gap of five years. The first round was held in 2007 in Kunming, Yunnan and the second in 2008 in Belgaum, Karnataka.

Defence ties were suspended for close to a year starting in 2009, after the PLA refused to issue a visa to the then head of the Northern Command, saying he was in charge of the “sensitive” region of Jammu and Kashmir. That same year, China began issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens from the State.

Since last year, both sides have appeared to close the chapter on the issue. While China has begun issuing regular visas to Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, the PLA has also quietly hosted several officers who were posted in the State, during recent exchanges.

Mr. Sharma also called on General Xu Qiliang, a Vice-Chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, who was, until recently, the Air Force Chief. General Xu was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency that he believed the two countries “have enough wisdom and ability to handle their relationship and are able to pave a healthy and stable development path for it.”

China, he said, “attaches great importance in developing military ties with India and hopes to increase mutual strategic trust, enhance friendly communication and deepen pragmatic cooperation in order to promote the strategic partnership for peace and prosperity and make a positive contribution to world and regional peace and stability.”