India and China have resumed military exchanges after nearly a year's freeze over a visa dispute, which experts from both sides said will end an embarrassing impasse between the neighbors.
An eight-member Indian military delegation, headed by Major General Gurmeet Singh, arrived in Beijing on Sunday for a six-day visit, a senior Indian defense official told Agence France-Presse earlier.
The delegation is scheduled to visit Chinese military units and hold talks with its counterparts in Beijing, Shanghai and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
AFP said Singh, the delegation chief, is the head of the Delta Force, part of a specialized counter-insurgency unit deployed in India-controlled Kashmir.
A spokesman for the Indian embassy in Beijing confirmed the delegation arrived on Sunday afternoon but did not reveal details. The Chinese Ministry of National Defense has yet to comment on the visit.
India suspended military exchanges in July last year after Beijing provided a stapled visa instead of a stamped one to the then head of India's Northern Army Command. The command controls part of disputed area of Kashmir.
The issue was resolved after China started issuing regular visas to residents from the disputed area, including some reporters who covered the BRICS summit in the southern Chinese city of Sanya in April.
"We decided to pause defense exchanges because of these differences of opinion," a source in the Indian government told AFP earlier on condition of anonymity.
"There were still phone calls and other contacts, but now, with this visit, we are seeing the resumption of normal, full-scale military exchanges," said the official.
The decision to resume defense cooperation was reached during talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hu Jintao in China in April.
The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, said the two countries also agreed to resume the annual defense dialogue due to take place in New Delhi.
Defense exchanges between the world's fastest growing economies have lagged far behind their trade and diplomatic ties, they said.
China is India's largest trade partner and the two nations have cooperated on issues ranging from global financial reform to climate change.
Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Reuters that not having defense talks was a "symbol of mistrust".
"It breeds more suspicion if they are not talking," Kondapalli added.
Uday Bhaskar, director of the New Delhi-based think tank National Maritime Foundation, said the visit is symbolic.
"It does not represent any breakthrough in solving the disputes," Bhaskar said. "Major generals in India do not decide policy ... That can happen only at the political level."
"But with this engagement you create space for political rapprochement," he said.
Wan Wei, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, said that the renewed contact at least meant that two countries had put the visa dispute behind them.
"It is a symbolic move and I think it helps to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation on international issues."
Commenting on recent Indian media claims that China is trying to "encircle" India, Fu Xiaoqiang, an expert on South Asian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the comments reflected a Cold War mentality, which partly resulted in the impasse in the past year.
"India has always regarded China as a potential No 1 rival, but China does not view India in the same way," Fu said.