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Hand in hand: China, India armies inch closer with optimism
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From weapons displays to anti-terrorism drills, from tug of war to basketball matches, from kung fu to yoga, from "xiexie" to "shaabaash," the Chinese and Indian armies are cautiously getting closer, hoping to learn more about each other.


This has been the first-ever joint anti-terrorism military training for the two armies since 1962, when the two Asian giants experienced a brief border conflict.


"Hand-in-Hand 2007," as the joint training is called, involves 103 ground troops from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and an equivalent number from the Indian Army.


It is being held since Dec. 19 at the PLA's Kunming Military Academy, located in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.


Although some military and diplomatic observers said that the joint training is more symbolic than substantial, many acknowledged that the point is not the scale of the joint training or what specific anti-terrorism skills are involved. The point is that the soldiers on both sides are moving toward each other in a friendly way.  


Living together, eating together, training together


When the young soldiers of both armies sit face-to-face, for the first time, on both sides of four long dining tables in the large dining hall of the Kunming Military Academy, they seem very stiff and even shy, avoiding eye contact.


But things change a little when they almost finish their supper at a welcoming banquet hosted by the Chinese side on the second day following the arrival of the Indian troops.


Although most of them cannot speak the other group's language, the smart young men quickly begin to use body language to communicate, or just say "Cheers!"


Indian soldiers learn to use chopsticks from Chinese soldiers, while some Chinese soldiers try to use their poor English to introduce Yunnan's popular scenic spots to their Indian counterparts. The quiet dining hall is soon filled with laughter and snaps of digital cameras featuring hand shakes and smiles.


"Now, I know Yunnan is a lovely place with lots of tourist sites, such as Stone Forest and Three Pagodas," says 22-year-old Lt. Avinash Singh of the Indian Army.


Aside from eating in the same dining hall, the 206 troops live side by side on the ground floor of the same three-story building in the military academy, half to the north of the entrance, half to the south.


Step by step, the Indian troops learn simple Chinese, such as "xiexie" (thank you), "nihao" (how are you?) and "jiayou" (cheers). The Chinese soldiers learn how to say "Good" in Hindi --"shaabaash." They happily use their new vocabulary to encourage the soldiers from the other country on the military training grounds, in addition to watching each other's military drills with keen interest and applause.


Every morning during the joint training, Indian soldiers learn kung fu and Chinese soldiers learn yoga from each other. Every evening, they hold basketball or volleyball matches or play tug of war.


"They are flexible. They grasp yoga quickly," says Capt. Tripurari Singh of the Indian Army. "And I like learning kung fu. I've seen all of Jackie Chan's action movies."


But as young men and soldiers, none of them would like to be "defeated" on the "battlefield" by the other side in the joint training. The program includes subjects such as military psychological training designed to help people get rid of their fears and foster perseverance, obstacle-crossing in high, cold mountains, shooting skills, and "room intervention" to fight terrorists and rescue hostages.


"I will certainly show my best in the joint training and at the same time, I will learn from the Indian soldiers in a modest attitude," says Yang Yong, 25, a non-commissioned officer (Class 2) of the Chinese troops.


"It's easy for me. No problem. I can do that, too, though I haven't done that before," says Jarid Ahmed whenever he sees Chinese soldiers accomplish a "mission impossible," like relaying an explosive that has been ignited, one after another, and throwing it away quickly before it blows up.


Step by step


"This is another step to deepen our cooperation and understanding," says Brig. Dadwal of the Indian Army, who is also commander of the Indian troops for the joint training.


Of the armed forces of China and India, the navies took the lead in holding the first-ever joint search-and-rescue exercise just four years ago off the coast of Shanghai, China's commercial hub.


And on Aug. 28, 2004, Chinese and Indian border troops held a joint mountaineering exercise in the border area of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, the first of its kind between the two armed forces.


On May 29, 2006, the defense ministries of China and India signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Exchanges and Cooperation in the Field of Defense, which provides a sound foundation and institutional framework for further development of defense cooperation.


The MOU led to the joint training exercise in Kunming as its "logical outcome," Dadwal says.


In November, meanwhile, China and India held their first Annual Defense Dialogue in Beijing.


Their bilateral military cooperation also includes attending training courses at each other's military facilities, high-level visits of military establishments and allowing observers at military exercises, according to Wu Xiaoyi, deputy director of the Asian Affairs Bureau under the Foreign Affairs Office of China's Defense Ministry.


"The Indian and Chinese troops on the border have been enjoying good relations, attending ceremonies and festivals and having other friendly exchanges," he says.


The expanding contacts and exchanges in the military field are actually being achieved against the backdrop of improving political and economic relations dating back to the 1990s.


As the two most populous and largest developing countries in the world, the Asian neighbors shared a long, friendly history until the 1960s, when they clashed over border issues.


Relations began to improve in 1976, when the two governments resumed the exchange of ambassadors. But it was not until the 1990s that political relations got onto a steady track and flourished, as characterized by frequent high-level visits.


Economic links have been strengthened with the warming political ties. Bilateral trade reached 24.86 billion U.S. dollars last year, up 32.9 percent year-on-year. In 1991, the figure was a mere 264 million U.S. dollars. China is now India's second largest trading partner, while India is China's 10th largest trading partner.


"Military-to-military relationships are an important part of diplomacy, and I'm certain that this joint training exercise will go a long way in improving bilateral relations," says Lt. Gen. Susheel Gupta, deputy chief of the Indian Army Staff and also head of the Indian military observer delegation to the training in Kunming.


He was responding to a question about the possible impact of the joint exercise on a planned China visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next month, which has yet to be officially finalized.


Diplomatic observers generally speak positively of the first-ever joint training between the two armies.


"It is great progress. It demonstrates that the military mutual-trust has markedly improved, which is beneficial to regional security," says Ye Hailin, a scholar with the Asia-Pacific Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


Ma Jiali, a research fellow of the Academy of China Contemporary International Relations, says the military relationship between China and India is like half a glass of water.


"Optimists will say 'we're lucky to have half a glass of water', while pessimists will sigh and say 'we have only half a glass'," Ma says.


"In any case," he adds "the first-ever military training between the two armies will help boost the bilateral relations of China and India."


There are border issues yet to be resolved, because the two sides have different stances and take different approaches to problems, acknowledges Ma Xiaotian, head of the Chinese military observer delegation to the joint training in Kunming.


"China insists on solving problems through negotiation, which requires communication and understanding between the two sides," says Ma, who is also PLA General Staff.


The joint exercises will play an active role in enhancing understanding and trust and deepening defense exchanges and cooperation, he says.


By the end of the 5-day training, "friend" in Chinese, English and Hindi has become a popular word between the two armies.


(Xinhua News Agency December 26, 2007)

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