Chinese delegates attend India aviation trade show for first time
Visit to aviation trade event is a first, and follows agreement to resume joint military exercises
India, the world's leading importer of weaponry, opened one of Asia's biggest aviation trade shows on Wednesday, with Western suppliers eyeing lucrative deals and a Chinese delegation attending for the first time.
Air Vice Marshal Zheng Yuanlin was heading a five-person group at the five-day Aero India show after New Delhi extended a formal invitation to China last month.
"They've confirmed their attendance," an Indian defence ministry spokesman said.
"It's the first time India has invited a Chinese delegation from Beijing."
The last Aero India in 2011 saw India initially snub China, but the Chinese envoy in New Delhi was allowed to attend in a negotiated compromise.
Suspicion of China runs deep in the Indian military and hawkish comments from senior commanders often conflict with the political leadership, which tends to stress the need for a partnership between Asia's two biggest nations.
India and China claim parts of each other's territory, while Beijing's military build-up along their frontier, as well as competing interests in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, are frequent sources of friction.
In a prelude to the decision to invite China to Aero India, they agreed to resume joint military exercises last September after the first visit of a Chinese defence minister to Delhi in eight years. The last exercises took place in 2008 and co-operation was called off in 2010 after a row when China refused a visa to an Indian commander stationed in the disputed region of Kashmir.
China's delegation to the show is dwarfed by attendees from Western nations and Russia who are eyeing deals and partnerships with local suppliers to tap the world's biggest arms import market.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in March 2011 said India received 9 per cent of global arms transfers from 2006 to 2010, making it the world's largest importer of weapons.
New Delhi has budgeted about 1.93 trillion rupees (HK$280 billion) for defence spending in the financial year to the end of March, up 17 per cent from 2011-2012, when spending was increased by another 12 per cent.
Many of these acquisitions are designed to guard against possible future threats from China - rather than traditional foe Pakistan - and protect Indian economic interests globally as the country extends its influence.
New Delhi insists that between 30 and 50 per cent of military hardware purchased from foreign suppliers is produced in India to ensure that technology and know-how is transferred.