India, China in talks to establish hotline between defence ministries: Beijing

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Beijing: India and China are holding talks to update a 12-year-old defence agreement and establish a hotline between the two defence ministries as part of the confidence building measures, a top Chinese defence ministry official said today.

During Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi last week, the two sides had in-depth discussions on how to further implement the important consensus reached between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Wu Qian said.

Modi and Xi, during their first-ever informal summit in Wuhan in April, reached a consensus on managing various aspects of India-China relations including the two militaries, especially in the backdrop of the Doklam standoff.

The hotline between the two militaries was regarded as a major Confidence Building Measure as it would enable both the headquarters to intensify communication to avert tensions between border patrols and to avoid standoffs like Doklam.

Tensions between India and China reached their peak during a 73-day standoff in Doklam near Bhutan over Beijing’s construction of a road in the area. The standoff ended after both sides agreed to disengage.

Wu said both the countries are also in consultations to work on a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the defence ministries.

“In 2006, India and China signed an MoU on defence exchanges and cooperation. The Indian side conveyed its willingness to sign a new version of the MoU. China holds a positive attitude towards it and the two sides are in communication with each other,” Wu said.

The 2006 MoU focussed on maintaining frequent exchanges between the leaders and high-level functionaries of the defence ministries, annual defence dialogue and holding joint military exchanges among others.

“If the dragon and elephant dance together, they will both gain and it will help Asia continue to be prosperous. If they compete and fight with each other, it will benefit neither but others,” Wu said.

“We hope and willing to work together with India to actively implement the consensus reached by the two heads of the state to enhance communication and coordination, to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, to appropriately manage our differences and to facilitate our military relationship in a healthy steady manner,” Wu said, adding that Wei had extended an official invitation to Sitharaman to visit China.

Wei’s talks with the Indian leaders focussed on “how to deepen security and military exchanges and cooperation and how to strengthen defence confidence building measures,” Wu said, highlighting the salient aspects of Wei’s visit to India.

“They specifically talked about setting up an exchange mechanism for visits between the two defence ministries, set up a direct confidential phone line between the two defence ministries, strengthening exchanges at all levels including defence authorities, theatre commands and different services.

“They also talked about setting up a hotline on border issues between adjacent military commands. They also talked about how to better play the role of defence and security consultations mechanism and the meeting mechanism between the working delegations of the defence ministries,” Wu said replying to a question on how China views the outcome of Wei’s visit to India.

The discussions between the two sides include a direct phone line between the two defence ministries and regional military units, Wu said.

On the delay over the establishments of a direct hotline between the two military headquarters, he said that the two sides are in talks about the specifics.

“In the next phase the two sides will keep contacting and coordinating with each other regarding the specifics,” Wu said.

So far both the militaries have not been able to operationalise efforts to establish a hotline facility between their military headquarters due to procedural issues, officials said.

Stressing on the importance of good relations between the two countries, Wu said China and India are very important countries in Asia and have important responsibilities in maintaining regional peace and stability.