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China General Heads to India for Talks After Border Setback

Ma Xiaotian (C), the deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff. Photographer: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images
Ma Xiaotian (C), the deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff. Photographer: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- India and China, which have fought a war over their disputed border and compete for resources to feed Asia’s two fastest growing economies, will hold their highest level military talks in almost two years.

General Ma Xiaotian, the deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff, will lead a delegation to New Delhi for meetings Dec. 9 with Indian Defense Secretary Shashikant Sharma and ministry officials. The previous round of defense dialogue was held in Beijing in January 2010.

The nuclear-armed neighbors, home to more than a third of the world’s people, claim territory held by the other and clashed during a brief border conflict in 1962. India has replaced China as the world’s top weapons importer, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as it aims to modernize its armed forces and defend against security threats from Pakistan and China.

Ma’s visit indicates that China and India have for now “resolved a degree of their tit-for-tat diplomacy,” said Lora Saalman, a Beijing-based analyst at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. “It does not signal that the overall tensions underpinning such disputes have been resolved.”

Military relations between the world’s two most populous nations were suspended in August 2010 after China issued a visa to an Indian army officer in charge of forces in Kashmir without stamping his passport, an act seen as questioning India’s rule over the disputed Himalayan territory. China has a close alliance with Pakistan, which has waged two wars with India over Kashmir.

Dalai Lama Protest

Border talks scheduled for Nov. 28-29 were scrapped after China objected to a Buddhist meeting in New Delhi at which the Dalai Lama was set to speak, the Press Trust of India reported. The government in Beijing refused to go ahead with the dialogue even after India said President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would not attend the Dalai Lama session, the Times of India newspaper reported Nov. 27.

The Dalai Lama has lived in India since fleeing in 1959 after China’s military takeover of Tibet. China accuses him and the government-in-exile that is also based in the north Indian town of Dharamshala, of secretly seeking independence for his homeland. The Dalai Lama says he wants autonomy for Tibet, not separation.

India’s foreign ministry said in a statement Nov. 25 it was looking forward to rescheduling the boundary talks “in the near future and the two sides remain in touch to find convenient dates.”

Arms Transfers

India and China, which went to war five decades ago over part of their 3,500-kilometer (2,175-mile) boundary, have tried to prevent their disagreements from affecting economic ties. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao traveled to India with 300 business executives in December last year. During that trip the countries vowed to raise trade by two-thirds to $100 billion in five years and reduce India’s trade deficit by promoting its exports to China.

The defense delegations will this week discuss “regional and global security issues,” review attempts to address the border issue and finalize military exchanges for next year, according to a statement from India’s defense ministry. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed Chinese participation at a regular briefing in Beijing yesterday.

India received 9 percent of international arms transfers by volume during 2006-10, Sipri said in a March report. India has tripled its military budget in the past decade to $32 billion this year compared with a near-quadrupling of spending by its neighbor and rival China in the same period. China said it planned to spend $91.5 billion on defense this year.

Obama’s Asia Pivot

President Barack Obama has begun shifting the focus of U.S. foreign policy onto Asia, last month signing an agreement to deploy Marines in Australia in a move aimed at blunting China’s regional influence. The U.S. will hold a trilateral dialogue with India and Japan in Washington on Dec. 19, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at a daily briefing yesterday.

India accuses China of occupying 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of territory in Jammu and Kashmir to the west, while the government in Beijing lays claim to 90,000 square kilometers of land in Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India’s east. The two sides have been unable to resolve their disputes after more than a dozen rounds of discussions since 2005.

Mineral Competition

India and China are competing around the world to secure oil, gas and metals. India and Vietnam signed an agreement Oct. 12 to expand joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, waters where Chinese claims over resources have led to clashes in recent months. India’s Foreign Ministry Sept. 1 denied a report that said a Chinese warship confronted an Indian navy vessel after it left Vietnamese waters in late July.

“Though there are irritants like the border, a trade imbalance and now the South China Sea, both countries want to push forward dialogue,” said R.N. Das, an analyst at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses.

Army ties resumed when Indian officers traveled to Beijing in June. A People’s Liberation Army delegation came to India Nov. 4-9, India’s defense ministry said in its statement. A further round of military exchanges will take place before the end of this month, it said.

“India’s relations with Vietnam and Myanmar and its refusal to intervene in matters concerning the Dalai Lama that are purely of a religious nature” signal it is becoming more assertive, Bahukutumbi Raman, an analyst at the Chennai Centre for China Studies, said in comments posted on his blog.

Both India and China are investing in ports, railways and oil and gas pipelines in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, that give them access to natural resources and trade routes in the Indian Ocean region.

“India has in recent months started slowly asserting its own interests and concerns without surrendering totally to those of China,” Raman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at

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