It will help chart a road map for greater military exchanges minus acrimony, say sources

Chinese Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie’s five-day visit, which began in Mumbai on Sunday, is aimed at avoiding military-related “turbulence” on the border with India while Beijing is occupied with political changes in its domestic hierarchy. The visit will help chart the road map for greater military exchanges minus the acrimony that arisen from time to time, said government sources.

“The Chinese have been focusing on domestic politics for many months. At this point of time they don’t want turbulence. We agreed to the visit when their request came in because we too are not itching for any turbulence with them,” the sources said.

In tune with the desire to improve ties, both sides are attempting to craft a joint statement which could be released after Gen. Liang meets Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Wednesday. This would be the first-ever joint statement by the Indian and Chinese Defence Ministers.

Asked about reports suggesting that the visiting Minister would give the Amar Jawan Jyoti a miss, the sources asserted that it was never on his itinerary. “Whether it was Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to China as Defence Minister in 2006 or the then Chinese Defence Minister’s visit to India in 2004, they did not visit any memorial for fallen soldiers. The fact is that the visit to the Amar Jawan Jyoti was never on the agenda. Neither did we propose that he visit the memorial, nor did he refuse to go.”

The sources cautioned against expecting any “earth-shattering” announcement and felt the visit would serve the primary purpose of keeping the communication lines with the Chinese open at several levels. This is all the more crucial in the defence sphere where ties slid in 2010 following Beijing’s denial of visa to an Indian Army General to lead an official delegation on the grounds that his area of responsibility included the “sensitive” Jammu and Kashmir region. The pause in defence ties was lifted last year after a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao. They also decided to address border irritants by setting up a mechanism on coordination and consultation on border affairs, a proposal mooted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Desire for tranquillity

The Chinese desire for tranquillity on its borders was also reflected during Gen. Liang’s previous port of call — Sri Lanka. He was quoted as saying China’s closer ties with South Asia were aimed at ensuring regional “security and stability” although “some people in the international community suspect that China would take the road of expansion with force and have been actively spreading the ‘China threat theory’.”

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