'Gen Liang's visit signals normalisation of China-India ties'



Beijing: As Chinese Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie started his official tour to India, analysts here said his visit signals bilateral military exchanges were back on track, paving the way for cooperation on security issues.

Liang's visit showed that military exchanges between Asia's two largest powers have "returned to normal", Fu Xiaoqiang, an expert on South Asian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told state-run China Daily.

"I think visit of General Liang will also enrich the two countries' cooperation in military and security," as the defence ties were on hold since 2004, Fu said. Gen Liang's delegation also includes senior officers from the South Sea Fleet of Chinese Navy.

"I would rather see the current political climate as an opportunity for China and India. If the two handle it properly, dialogues on various issues will help us avoid doubts and embrace more opportunities for the comprehensive development of Sino-Indian relations," he said.

These are the first comments from the Chinese establishment on Gen Liang's visit which is first by Chinese Defence Minister in eight years.

According to the Ministry of National Defence, Liang and his delegation, includes high-ranking members of the Chinese defence and military establishment.

The India-China defence suffered a major setback in 2009 when China began issuing visas for resident of Jammu and Kashmir on a piece of paper instead of stamping on the passport stating that it was a disputed territory.

India virtually called off military exchanges after visa was denied to a top army official of the Northern Command on the ground that he headed forces in the disputed region.

Beijing finally relented by informally conveying to India that the practice has been stopped even though there nothing has been stated in writing. Since then pace of visits by Indian delegations which included officials from the Northern Command have picked up.

The Deputy Chief of Staff of People's Liberation Army, (PLA) Ma Xiaotian visited New Delhi in last December to take part in the Defence and Security dialogue.

An Indian defence delegation also recently visited for the first time Tibet besides other centres.

Significantly, Liang also visited Colombo before his arrival in India marking the first such visit by a Chinese Defence Minister.

He said that Beijing's increasingly close ties with South Asia are aimed at ensuring regional "security and stability" and are not intended to harm any "third party".

He also dismissed the "China threat theory" stating that "China and India, as the two biggest developing countries in the world, are not rivals in any competition at present. Military talks between them do not match the explosive increase in Sino-Indian trade and the regular political exchanges".

While China is playing down the strategic implications of a deepening Sino-Lanka defence relation for India, Liang was expected to take up China's own concerns about India's Look East policy, specially New Delhi's close ties with Vietnam and Japan in the context of major US foray into South China Sea, where China is locked up in maritime disputes with host of neighbours.

The talks between Liang and Defence Minister Antony were expected to cover situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Significantly though, Liang will be going to Laos from New Delhi not Islamabad as most of the Chinese leaders used to do in the past, considering the all weather political and defence ties between the two countries.

State television CCTV said Liang-Antony talks would include Pakistan and Afghanistan and security challenges faced by two countries in the backdrop of NATO troops plans to leave Kabul by 2014.

PTI