China and India are expected to hold their first ever joint naval exercises in the East China Sea today, marking an improvement in relations between the world's two most populous countries.
The Indian fleet comprises three warships, namely, INS Ranjit (Guided Missile Destroyer), INS Kulish (Guided Missile Corvette) and INS Jyoti (Replenishment Tanker), Indian ambassador to China Nalin Surie told China Daily.
The fleet arrived in east China's Shanghai Municipality on Monday for a five-day official visit. They are expected to join the Chinese navy today in the one-day search and rescue exercises off the coast of Shanghai, China's commercial hub.
"The exercise, aimed at ensuring the safety of maritime trade and improving co-ordination in search and rescue at sea, will be a stepping stone in enhancing inter-operability between the two navies," said the ambassador.
"The joint search and rescue exercise by the two navies highlights the commitment of the two countries for taking steps that will increase mutual trust and understanding and will enhance mutually beneficial and broad-based cooperation," said Surie.
The Indian task force is commanded by Rear Admiral R. P. Suthan, Flag Officer Commanding, Eastern Fleet.
In an interview with the Shanghai newspaper Oriental Morning Post, Suthan said it is a common mission for navies around the world to maintain maritime safety and conduct rescue on the sea.
"The unprecedented bilateral cooperation in the non-traditional security field will play a great role in helping the two countries build confidence and reduce friction," said Sun Shihai, deputy director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Such cooperation, if it continues, will also play a major role in maintaining peace and stability in the whole of Asia," he said.
Chinese military forces have stepped up their cooperation in non-traditional security fields both regionally and internationally in recent years. They are pursuing a new security concept of "mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and co-ordination," a leading officer with the Foreign Affairs Office under the Chinese Ministry of National Defence told the press earlier.
Last month, China conducted similar naval exercises with Pakistan at the same venue. The drill, simulating an emergency rescue, was the first time either country had engaged in joint naval operations with another nation.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited Beijing earlier this month, shortly after the drill.
The two countries signed a joint declaration on the direction of future developments in China-Pakistan cooperation.
Last week, when responding to a question on the impact of China-India joint naval exercises on China-Pakistan relations, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said China considers good relations with both India and Pakistan important.
"China stands ready to continue its relationship with all its neighbours, including India and Pakistan, in the spirit of being kind to neighbours and treating neighbours as partners," Zhang said.
"China, by developing good relations with both India and Pakistan simultaneously, is asserting itself as a responsible, constructive and positive influence in South Asia," Sun said.
He said stability and prosperous development in South Asia is in China's interests as it needs a peaceful environment for domestic development.
The Indian ambassador said the drill will also provide a fillip to the growing momentum in bilateral relations.
"The drill will show that China and India are now carrying out cooperation across the board, which will help the two countries solve problems left by history," said Zhang Minqiu, a professor with the School of International Studies at Peking University, referring to long-standing boundary disputes.
Zhang said the visit to China in June of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee indicates bilateral ties have entered a new phase. The joint naval exercises were agreed during this visit, the ambassador said.
China and India signed a declaration on principles for relations and comprehensive cooperation during the visit. Both sides agreed to appoint special representatives on the border issue as well.
(China Daily November 14, 2003)