India and China are now set to resume their annual ‘Hand-in-Hand’ (HiH) combat exercise after it got derailed last year due to the 73-day troop stand-off near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, signaling their intent to step-up military-to-military ties and confidence-building measures.
Sources on Wednesday said the “final planning conference” for this 7t edition of the HiH exercise, which will be held in the Chengdu region in China in December, is slated for the first week of November. “The conference will finalize the exact dates and modalities for the exercise, which will focus on counterterror operations. Around 175 soldiers from the 11 Sikh Light Infantry battalion and other arms and services from the Northern Army Command will take part in the exercise from our side,” said a source.
The bilateral defence secretary-level annual defence dialogue is also slated to be held in December, even as the two countries are now also giving finishing touches to the “operationalization” of the top-level hotline between their militaries. The two sides have already decided to work towards reducing troop confrontations along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC), with better implementation of CBMs, additional border personnel meeting (BPM) points and greater interaction between local commanders on the ground.
But while border tensions have reduced since Doklam, which saw the two armies move additional infantry battalions, tanks, artillery and missile units forward, the rival troops continue to aggressively patrol to lay claim to disputed areas stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. It was in June last year that the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation had begun after Indian troops had physically blocked the attempt by Chinese soldiers to extend the existing motorable road there towards the Jampheri Ridge in south Doklam.
Though the two armies had disengaged from the face-off site on August 28 after hectic diplomatic parleys, the fallout has been that the People’s Liberation Army has constructed military infrastructure and helipads as well as permanently stationed around 600-700 troops in north Doklam, as earlier reported by TOI.
The joint HiH exercise, touted as an important confidence-building measure between the world’s largest and second-largest armies, was held for the first at Kunming (China) in 2007. But after the second edition at Belgaum in 2008, the exercise was put on hold due to diplomatic spats over stapled visa and other issues in 2009-2010. The exercise was finally resumed in 2013, with the third edition being held at Miaoergang in China. The sixth edition was held in Pune in 2016. Source: The Times of India