Notwithstanding the recent faceoff in eastern Ladakh, Defence Minister A K Antony may travel to China next month to strengthen the bilateral relations on military affairs between the two rising Asian powerhouses.
“The defence minister will be going to China soon. The dates will be announced when we are ready,” said Jaishankar, Indian Ambassador to China, here on Monday after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Chinese premier Li Keqiang.
Defence Ministry officials are working on a set of dates in June because Antony's visit was being planned for quite some time as a follow-up to last August‘s visit by Chinese Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie, who invited his Indian counterpart to come to China. General Liang has now been replaced by Gen Chang Wanquan in the new Chinese regime.
Antony will be the second Indian defence minister after Pranab Mukherjee to travel to Beijing after decades of mistrust between the two neighbours in the wake of India’s 1962 war with China.
In May 2006, then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee had visited China for five days, during which he signed a memorandum of understanding with China on bilateral cooperation in military issues and visited the Lanzhou Military Region, adjacent to Ladakh in India and Pakistan. Mukherjee was also given a detailed briefing on the role and functions of the Lanzhou Military Area Command, which is important from India’s perspective.
Before Mukherjee’s China tour, their defence minister Gen Cao Gangchuan visited India in March 2004.
One of the fallouts of Mukherjee’s visit was a joint exercise between two of the world's biggest armies. The counter-insurgency exercise involving 80-100 men in uniform from both sides took place in 2007 (in Kunming) and 2008 (in Belgaum), after which it came to a screeching halt when Beijing refused to give visa to the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command for an official trip, arguing that Kashmir was a disputed territory.
With both governments agreeing to revive the bilateral exercise, sources told Deccan Herald that the People's Liberation Army of China and the Indian Army are likely to exercise together in October, possibly in the Chengdu military region. The exact dates and venue, however, are yet to decide.
“Both sides have agreed to hold the next round of joint training exercises later this year, in addition to increased exchanges between the Armies, Navies and Air Forces of the two nations,” says the joint statement, signalling renewed thrust on military engagements.