The riddle of India, China military exercises

December 6, 2008

India and China are holding joint troop exercises this weekend in southern India.  As exercises between nations go nowadays these games named “Hand-in Hand 2008″ are fairly low level and limited in scope. Certainly not on the scale of the naval, air and ground exercises that India and the United States have embarked upon in recent years.

But this is a difficult time in South Asia following the attacks in Mumbai which New Delhi says were orchestrated from Pakistan and for which it is seeking decisive action. So, for China, – Pakistan’s all weather ally -  to be sending a bunch of  troops to India at this fraught moment is certainly worthy of note, if nothing else.

Obviously the exercises were long-planned and perhaps both sides didn’t want to send a negative signal by calling them off at this stage. Relations between India and China are themselves dogged by deep distrust long after they went to war in 1962 and every move forward or lack of it is closely watched by Indo-Sino watchers.

 

[Chinese and Indian soldiers at an exercise in 2007. Pic by Reuters/China Daily]

There is even an anti-terrorism element to the exercises. An Indian defence ministry statement said that troops taking part in Hand-in Hand 2008 will carry out tactical manoeuvres and drills interoperability training; and finally “culminating in a joint counter-terrorist operational exercise with simulated enemy.”

In India’s case elements in Pakistan can only be the simulated enemy, especially with the wounds from the Mumbai attacks still raw. The reverse holds true for large sections of Pakistan who have for long felt threatened by India, its bigger neighbour to the east.

But what of the Chinese? Who are they thinking of as the enemy when they go through the drills? Separatists in its Muslim-majority Xinjiang region or perhaps Tibetans who were the target of a clampdown following unrest this year?

A little Chinese riddle perhaps, these exercises at this time ?

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