India and China will resume the annual bilateral military drill this year, according to multiple media reports. The joint military exercise will happen this time in China. The previous edition was held in Pune in 2016.
The 2017 edition of the joint drill was cancelled after the two rival powers were entangled in a 73-day military face-off in Doklam, the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China.
The meeting to chalk out the final details of the “Hand-in-Hand” (HiH) combat exercise will be held in Chengdu in December, the Times of India said. “Around 175 soldiers from the 11 Sikh Light Infantry battalion and other arms and services from the Northern Army Command will take part in the exercise from our side,” the report cited a sources as saying.
The Doklam face-off had significantly altered the delicate military and political balance between the Asian giants, with the two sides moving additional troops, weaponry and tanks to forward positions, giving rise to fears of armed escalation.
The standoff was one of the biggest challenges the bilateral relations had ever faced. Though the faceoff was resolved, there have been reports lately that China has restarted activities in the region. International observers, meanwhile, have compared China’s persistent attention o Doklam to its expansive activities in the South China Sea, despite vocal objections from several countries in the region.
India’s situation was exasperated over additional fears over Bhutan’s position in the conflict. There have been reports that Bhutan would give away Doklam to the Chinese but the Indian establishment has brushed aside this possibility.
Since the resolution of the Doklam crisis, the two sides have been working on normalising relations. In August, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi and told him China’s friendship with India dated back to ancient times.
After Wei’s meeting with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the government issued a note saying: “It was decided to expand the engagement between their armed forces relating to training, joint exercises and other professional interactions.”
The India-China joint military exercise was started in 2007, with the first edition taking place in China’s Kunming. In some of the subsequent years the bilateral drill was cancelled over diplomatic spats but it took place regularly from 2013 to 2016.
The Delhi meeting had taken place after at least two reports from the border suggested that India had reasons to worry about China’s intention and activity.
It was reported that China was constructing an “all-weather road” in the Shaksgam Valley in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, in a region extremely important for India’s security interests. The 10-metre-wide all-weather road was being built in the strategically sensitive northernmost part of Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield.
Another report said China had intruded 500 metres into Ladakh and pitches 5 tents in Demchok. Sources told ANI in early August that the Chinese soldiers crossed over to the Indian side pretending to be nomads grazing their cattle, but did not retreat even though the Indian Army conducted banner drills asking them to go back.
Demchok is one of the “disputed and sensitive areas” along with 22 others at the LAC that stretches from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. The other areas in Ladakh are Trig Heights, Chumar, Spanggur Gap, Dumchele and Pangong Tso.
Another important meeting, the secretary-level annual defence dialogue, will also take place in December. Meanwhile India and China are chalking out the final details of the “operationalization” of the top-level military hotline.