India and China commenced their high-profile defence dialogue on Monday, with each side announcing that it accorded top priority to military ties, amid hopes that talks will cover China’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR), and details about establishing a hotline between the two military headquarters.
In his brief opening remarks, following an impressive ceremonial welcome at the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), visiting Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stressed that, “India attaches highest priority to its relations with China.” He added: “We are committed to further developing friendly and cooperative relations with China.”
Mr. Parrikar was reciprocating to remarks by his counterpart, Chang Wanquan, who pointed out that China “attaches utmost importance to the visit and we tried our best to meet your requirements”. Gen. Chang referred to Mr. Parrikar’s upcoming meetings with the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, Fan Changlong, and a call on Prime Minister Li Keqiang, as an expression of the importance of the visit.
The talks are taking place in the larger context of the shifting balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. Analysts say that India’s position can be crucial in China’s attempts to counter the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia” doctrine — largely seen in Beijing as a “China containment” formulation through the accumulation of military forces by the U.S. and its allies in the Western Pacific.
Highly places sources said that the Chinese side is waiting to be briefed by Mr. Parrikar and his composite tri-service delegation, on the “in principle” Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) agreement between India and the United States. Coinciding with Mr. Parrikar’s arrival, the state-run Global Timesran an op-ed which observed that the postponement of the signing of the LSA during the recently concluded visit to India by the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter reflected the “deficit of strategic trust” between India and the US, which has been accentuated the US-Pakistan F-16 fighter jets deal and denial of “catapult launch technology” for an under construction Indian aircraft carrier.
“Besides their traditional distrust, the speculation heralding a US-India alliance is also an obvious underestimation of India’s ambition for a role of swing-state between superpowers.” The write-up also noted that India did not “discuss the prospect of joint patrols in the South China Sea (with the US), despite the obvious interest and much enthusiasm from its American counterpart.”
Sources told The Hindu that the Indian side was interested in a first-hand account of China’s interests in the Indian Ocean under the framework of Beijing’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative. The Chinese are developing in the Indian Ocean, the port of Kyaukphyu in Myanmar, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan, along with a military logistics base in Djibouti, apparently to service its warships engaged in counter-piracy operations near the Gulf of Aden.
The presence of Chief of the western naval Command, Sunil Lanba in the visiting delegation, signals India’s interest in the MSR, the sources said.
Officials said that the establishment of a hotline between the two military headquarters remains an unaccomplished task, despite its inclusion as a priority item in the joint communiqué issued at the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May 2015.
Monday’s talks, split into two rounds, were also focusing on additional Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), including talks on an additional meeting point for local border commanders in the Central Sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Talks were highlighting improved “border management” to ensure that incidents on the frontiers were avoided or quickly contained through an established set of protocols.
The Chinese side would also acquaint Mr. Parrikar with its newly formed theater commands. The defence minister will visit the Chengdu based western theater command, covering the LAC, where he will interact with troops from the Special Operations Military Brigade.