India and China on Thursday decided to work towards firming up a new bilateral pact on defence cooperation and agreed to increase interactions between their militaries at multiple levels to avoid Doklam-like standoffs along the disputed border.
The decisions were taken at a nearly two-hour meeting between Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Chinese counterpart, focus of which was to build mutual trust between the two armies guarding the 3,500 km Sino-India border, officials said.
The two sides also decided on early operationalisation of the proposed hotline between the two armies as part of the confidence building measures, the defence ministry said.
Sources said Sitharaman talked about security challenges India has been facing because of cross-border terrorism, its views on bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and the need for ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight in South China Sea.
She also raised the issue of $ 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as she noted that it violates India’s sovereignty.
The sources said the two sides primarily focused on implementing decisions taken at the Wuhan summit in April by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping which included enhancing strategic communication between the two armies.
“It was decided to expand the engagement between their armed forces relating to training, joint exercises and other professional interactions. Both sides also decided to work towards a new bilateral MoU on defence exchanges and cooperation to replace the MoU signed in 2006,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
It said Sitharaman and Wei deliberated on bilateral, regional and international issues in a “free, frank and constructive manner”.
“It was agreed to work towards full implementation of ongoing confidence building measures as well as greater interactions at the working level to ensure the maintenance of peace and tranquillity, including early operationalisation of the hotline between the relevant departments of their armed forces,” the ministry said.
Wei arrived here on Tuesday on a four-day visit with an aim to explore measures to build trust between the armies of the two countries which were engaged in a 73-day standoff in Doklam last year.
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.
In the meeting, both sides agreed that the proposed hotline between the armies of the two countries should be operationalised soon. It was, however, not immediately known whether the two sides could resolve the issues, delaying its operationalisation.
Sources said the Chinese side proposed that the facility of the hotline should be made available at two-three levels.
After the Wuhan summit, both sides revived the long-pending proposal to set up the hotline so as to avoid flare-ups along the disputed border. But, the initiative hit roadblocks over 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 is opposed to the Chinese proposal, insisting that an officer equivalent to Indian DGMO at PLA’s headquarters should be deputed for the communication through the hotline.