India and China on August 23, 2018 decided to work towards a new bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence Exchanges and Cooperation to replace the MoU signed in 2006.
The 2006 MoU was signed by the then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and 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 decision was taken during a meeting between Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe.
A 24-member delegation of the Chinese Defence Ministry led by State Councillor and Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe is on a four-day visit to India. The visit comes exactly a year after the 73-day military stand-off at Doklam.
Decisions taken during the meeting
• Both the two sides primarily focused on implementing decisions taken at the Wuhan Summit in April 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping which included enhancing strategic communication between the two armies.
• They agreed to increase interactions between their military at multiple levels to avoid Doklam-like standoffs along the disputed border.
• The two sides also decided on early operationalisation of the proposed hotline between the two armies as part of the confidence building measures.
• The two countries are also working on setting up additional Border Meeting Points (BPM) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). There are five BPM points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Bum La and Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh, Daulat Beg Oldi and Chushul in Ladakh, and Nathu La in Sikkim.
• The issue of restarting ‘Hand in Hand’ anti-terrorist exercise also came up during the meeting. The exercise is held every year alternatively in China and India, however, it could not be held in 2017 in China due to Doklam tension.
• The decisions, taken during the meeting, were aimed at building mutual trust between the two armies guarding the 3500 km Sino-India border.
Disagreements regarding the setting-up of hotline
After the Wuhan summit, both sides revived the long-pending proposal to set up the hotline to avoid break outs along the disputed border. However, the initiative saw differences on issues relating to protocol and technical aspect of the hotline.
The Indian Army has been maintaining that the hotline should be between its Director General of Military Operations (DGMOs) and his equivalent official in Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). However, Beijing proposed that the deputy commander of its Chengdu-based Western Theatre Command would engage with the Indian DGMO.
The Indian Army opposes the Chinese proposal, insisting that an officer equivalent to Indian DGMO at PLA's headquarters should be deputed for communication through the hotline.
Issues raised by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
• Sitharaman talked about security challenges India has been facing because of cross-border terrorism and the need for ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight in South China Sea.
• She also raised the issue of USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as it violates India's sovereignty.
The dispute at Doklam began in June 2017 after the Indian Army stalled the construction of Chinese road in Doklam, the area that lies in the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan.
Doklam Plateau is a disputed territory for China and Bhutan. Doklam, in the Sikkim sector, is a strategically important area which is claimed by Bhutan. India has been acting as security guarantor to the tiny country in the sensitive region.
India claimed that the road in Doklam is a threat to India as the region is close to Siliguri corridor, also known as Chicken’s Neck, which links India to its northeastern states. China’s road building activity was also protested by Bhutan.
The 73-day face-off ended after intervention at the highest level of both the countries. In an effort to avoid such confrontations, PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had an Informal Summit in Wuhan in April 2018.