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india_china_talks-660_042413092442In order to cement its role in smoothing India-China relations, the Indian National Congress  facilitated a high level meeting between Indian Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh and her counterpart vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin in Beijing for the sixth round of strategic dialogue last week. Besides deepening trade and economic ties, the foreign secretaries also chalked out the path ahead by reaffirming their alliance and bilateral commitment to each other.

An important decision declared during the meeting was China’s rejection of India’s proposal to establish a Consulate in Lhasa, Tibet. As a reciprocal move New Delhi has refused China permission to set up a consulate in Kolkata. India will now plan to establish another office in Chengdu, Sichuan Province or Kunming, Yunnan Province. She had earlier also considered a consulate or trade office in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Furthermore, prior to President Xi Jinping’s visit to India later this year, both sides also held intensive consultations on bilateral, regional and international issues including the contentious border, India’s ballooning trade deficit, the proposed special economic zones and plans for this years events during the Year of India-China Friendly Exchanges

Following the sixth round of strategic dialogue, earlier this week, a high level delegation meeting between the army’s of both countries also took place where for the first time, senior Indian Army officers interacted with the Chinese General responsible for troop operations on implementing the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA). The People’s Liberation Army team lead by Deputy Chief of General Staff (Operations) Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo met his Indian Army counterparts, led by Vice Chief of Army Staff Dalbir Singh Suhag in a joint military confidence building measure.

While the sweet and sour neighbours agreed to increase military exchanges between the nations, both also met to make progress before President Xi Jinping’s visit to India later this year. While China has already overtly expressed her desire to sign the BDCA, a point on President Xi’s agenda, India is aware of the pitfalls the BDCA comes with and is hesitant to ratify the agreement. China has since long being trying to woo India and establishing new ties with a new government will be challenging for the one party system, yet Beijing remains keen to assert her influence on her southern neighbour. As a country economically less developed than China, India might have little bargaining power, however her allies are strong and India has shown that she can command the upper hand when need be.

Furthermore, China recently realigned her army when it approved the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) plans for modernisation and organisational restructuring. The  2.3 million-strong PLA approved changes in its command structure comprising the four principal departments and seven military regions during the Chinese Communist Party’s Third Plenum held in November 2013. Also, according to the New Indian Express, plans have been finalised to merge the military regions. These envisage reorganising the seven military regions (Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Beijing, Chengdu and Lanzho) into five “combat zones” (zhan chu) within the next five years. Over the past few years China’s military literature has hinted at such impending change with occasional references to “Theatre Commands”. The reorganisation is intended to concentrate firepower and troops trained for a specific type of warfare within a single theatre or zone for ease of rapid deployment. Land and sea warfare forces are to be grouped separately. This reorganisation gives the PLA a definite “outward orientation” neatly meshing with its doctrine of “active defence”.

Whether the BDCA does take us a step ahead in resolving our border issue or not, continued interaction between our armies in the boardroom rather than the battle ground is always a prudent step. Regardless of whether Dr. Manmohan Singh can look back at a legacy to stitch Indias borders back to her shoulders or not, we have moved a long way since our cold war days and this summer just might warm relations further.

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