China and India Hold Joint Army Exercise
In a first of its kind, China and India held a joint Army exercise in the second half of December 2007. The joint Army exercise was conducted in the Yunan province of China in which an Indian Army contingent of over a hundred soldiers exercised jointly with an equal number of Chinese Army soldiers in counter-terrorism operations in hilly terrain.
The joint China-India military exercise may have been on a small scale in terms of numbers and therefore may not invite that much strategic attention but this first ever move by China and India to jointly exercise their soldiers on Chinese soil carries rich political symbolism and significance.
It needs to be remembered that China and India figure as major threat perceptions in each others strategic calculus as a result of the 1962 border war between the two countries over their territorial disputes. Chinese and Indian soldiers face each other along the over 3000 km long northern border along the Himalayan mountain chain. Both the Chinese Army and the Indian Army studiously monitor each others defence modernization and upgradation plans and a high alert status is maintained along the India-China border.
When viewed against the above backdrop both China and India seem to be sending out messages through this first joint military initiative that both countries want to indulge in military confidence measures to dispel the mutual suspicions and mistrust that exists between the two countries and between their Armies.
Economic and trade relations between China and India have grown exponentially in the last seven years from about $ 2 billion to nearly $ 30 billion today. Along side political contacts at the highest level too have increased in terms of frequency and content despite no solution yet to the vexing border alignment dispute.
It needs to be stressed, however, that the full potential of a comprehensive strategic relationship between China and India cannot emerge unless the border dispute between the two countries is finally resolved. The border dispute resolution can no longer be kept in a deep freeze as a question that has been left by history and to be solved by future generations. This Chinese position is no longer considered as tenable by a vast majority of Indians.
Joint military exercises of the type that China and India have conducted this month do give an opportunity to troops of both countries to gain first hand experience of each others military doctrines, military thinking and military training techniques. Such exercises also enable development of respect for each others military skills as exhibited during their joint exercise.
The operational setting for the joint China-India military exercise avoided any type of regular military operations but dwelt on dealing with a terrorist threat in the vicinity of their borders and necessitating joint military action by both China and India. The military theme was therefore politically non-controversial and more in tune with the tenor of the joint army exercises being conducted by other nations.
If the present joint China-India Army exercise becomes a trend-setter for greater military contacts in the future between the two nations it would be welcomed by strategic analysts in both countries for the simple reason that it may lessen the strategic uneasiness that prevails sub-surface between the two nations.
A beginning seems to have been made but it also needs to be emphasized at the same moment that for it to bear fruit and for the fruit to ripen China needs to make a dramatic reorientation in its existing South Asia policies that impinge on India's strategic interests
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Dr. Subhash Kapila
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