The devastating earthquake in Nepal, to which troops from India and China were among the first responders, appears to have imparted fresh urgency among military planners of the two countries to include disaster relief on the agenda of joint military exercises.
Earlier editions of the Sino-Indian military drills have mainly focused on countering terrorism, but humanitarian assistance and disaster relief emerged as a top priority during the latest round of drills.
In a conversation with the media following the end of the “hand-in-hand” exercise on Thursday in the rugged terrain on the outskirts of Kunming, Lt. General A.L. Chavan, Director-General Military Training, asserted that joint planning for the exercise that covered counterterrorism as well as disaster relief, and included the use of each other’s weapons had generated enormous confidence.
“So should there be a contingency related to counterterrorism or humanitarian assistance, such as an earthquake which occurs in an area which is remote but accessible to troops on both sides, it is possible for troops on both sides to conduct such operations smoothly. This is the big takeaway from this exercise,” he said.
Gen. Chavan stressed that the “knowledge” gained by confronting the Nepal earthquake would greatly help the two armies in tackling natural calamities in the neighbourhood, as well as along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), should the need arise. “We have areas along the LAC where there are pockets of population which are fairly large and it is also a seismic belt. In case required on either side we could jointly assist each other.” He added the exercise has shown that the Indian and Chinese troops at a “working level” can operate both in a “disaster relief and counterterrorism environment”.
Gen. Chavan’s host, Major General Zhang Bing, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Chengdu Military Region, acknowledged during his interaction with the media that humanitarian and disaster relief seminars held during the course of the exercise were an “important improvement” over the previous rounds of the hand-in-hand exercises.
The Indian side saw the latest manoeuvres as a significant confidence building step. Gen. Chavan pointed out that the exercise “will affect the border management”.
Gen. Zhang also struck a positive note on the situation at the borders. “Our two armies have effectively maintained peace and tranquillity along the Indian border. The situation in the border area is stable and peaceful. We also hold several border meetings to keep that peace and stability.”
At an impressive ceremony which brought the exercise to a close, both commanders were upbeat in expressing that the growing military relationship between the two countries could have a global impact. Gen. Chavan observed that being two large and influential countries, India and China “have the onerous responsibility of playing a significant role globally in promoting and building a unified and a just world”. His Chinese host saw the drills as part of a larger “global counterterrorism” initiative.
Yet both commanders, acknowledging the rather modest scale of the manoeuvres, backed expansion of the exercise in the future, though Gen. Chavan’s advocacy was more calibrated than that of his Chinese counterpart. “At present, my interaction with the troops tells me that they are fairly confident of operating jointly in an environment together. So the willingness (to expand) is there,” observed Gen. Chavan.
On his part Gen. Zhang said in response to a question that “China is waiting to expand the scope of exchange and cooperation between our two armies in various fields”.