India, China to work out new defence pact

India, China to work out new defence pact

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman welcomes her Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe at the South Block in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI

The defence ministers of India and China on Thursday met here for the first time since the Wuhan Summit at which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping had agreed to leave the ghosts of Doklam behind.

Nirmala Sitharaman met her Chinese counterpart Gen Wei Fenghe, who is on a bilateral visit to India from August 21 to 24. The two leaders had an extensive delegation-level talk at the South Block.

In their first high-level engagement since Wuhan, the two nations agreed to work out a new bilateral memorandum of understanding on defence exchanges and cooperation to replace a pact signed in 2006, defence ministry sources said.

The 2006 MoU signed by the then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee with his Chinese counterpart envisaged “establishment of a mechanism to ensure frequent and regular exchanges between leaders and officials of the defence ministries and the armed forces of the two countries in addition to developing an annual calendar for holding regular joint military exercises and training programmes.”

The two Asian neighbours, who had a bitter fight in 1962 and share a disputed boundary, now seek to move ahead on defence cooperation to enhance “mutual trust and understanding to implement the consensus reached between Modi and Xi at the Wuhan summit”.

New Delhi and Beijing have also agreed to enhance cooperation between armed forces relating to training, joint exercise and other professional interactions.

This strengthens hope for early resumption of bilateral Hand-in-Hand exercise that was shelved following the Doklam episode during which troops guarding the disputed boundary had a 72-day face-off at a contentious site in the mountainous territory near India-China-Bhutan tri-junction, precipitating a crisis.

Since Doklam, none of the armies lowered their guards along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control between the two countries.

While discussing border issues, Nirmala Sitharaman and Gen Wei agreed to “work towards full implementation of ongoing confidence-building measures” and “greater interaction at the working level” to ensure the maintenance of peace and tranquility, sources said.

The ministerial agreement comes days after opening up a new border personnel meeting point at Kepang La in Arunachal Pradesh — the third one in the north eastern state — for regular exchanges between the two armies.

Army hotline

Another pending issue of establishing a hotline between the two armies, too, came up for discussion. The two ministers agreed that the telephone link should be established at the earliest. However, the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army are required to sort out some technical and procedural issues, before the link is up. India currently maintains such a hotline with Pakistan.

The India-China meeting comes two days after a meeting between the defence ministers of India and Japan and a fortnight before the 2+2 summit involving Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with their respective US counterparts Jim Mattis and Mike Pompeo.