Chinese defence minster makes peace-keeping trip to New Delhi

While Beijing battles territorial disputes with Japan, Defence Minister Liang Guanglie makes landmark peace-keeping trip to India

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 3:38am


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Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie will signal Beijing's desire to maintain calm on the disputed Sino-Indian border in the Himalayas by including the PLA's Tibet Military Area Command in his delegation to India during a five-day visit beginning on Sunday.

Liang's trip to India is the first by a Chinese defence minister in eight years and comes as Beijing grapples with territorial disputes in the South and East China seas.

Liang will meet Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony and discuss a number of security matters.

The People's Liberation Army Daily said the 23-member Chinese delegation would include the commander of the PLA's Tibet Military Area Command Lieutenant General Yang Jinshan , the deputy commander of the PLA Air Force Lieutenant General Zhou Laiqiang and other senior officers.

D.S. Rajan, director of the India's Chennai Centre for China Studies, said Yang's presence could be significant.

"The agenda for the talks may include further strengthening of confidence-building measures already in place in the border," he said, while stressing that the territorial dispute was unlikely to come up for direct discussion.

Rajan said China's keenness to maintain a stable relationship with India contrasted with its aggressive stance on the South China Sea and Diaoyu Islands.

Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canadian-based Kanwa Asian Defence Monthly, said Liang's trip was aimed at preventing disputes on the SinoIndian border in the Himalayas from escalating while Beijing deals with territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and some Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea.

"Military tensions on the Sino-Indian border in the Himalayas have never eased in the past few years," Chang said.

He cited People's Liberation Army Daily reports that Beijing had based third-generation J-10 and J-11 jet fighters on the Tibetan Plateau last year and had staged military exercises in the region involving artillery, airborne troops and the air force.

"India has reacted with similar military action, sending its advanced weapons, such as the Su-30 MKI [jet fighter] and launching military dills … but Beijing doesn't want the confrontation to get out of control."

Beijing and New Delhi had a brief border conflict in the remote Himalayan region in 1962. The contested area spans nearly 90,000 square kilometres that China calls Southern Tibet and which India administers as Arunachal Pradesh.

Chang said Liang's rare trip indicated China wanted both to collaborate with India and to contain New Delhi's military ambitions in Arunachal Pradesh.

"China understands its key enemies are the US and Japan, not India," Chang said. "Liang's trip will provide a chance for both sides to find out each other's military bottom line."

The last defence minister to visit India was General Cao Gangchuan in March 2004. Indian defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, now the president, visited China in May 2006.