Exercise Hand-in-Hand: Counter-terrorism Cooperati

The Indian army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China participated in a joint counter-terrorism exercise at Kunming in the Yunnan province of China in the second week of October 2015. It is a good indicator of the state of geopolitics in Asia that even as the Indian army and the PLA were engaged in a joint military exercise, a trilateral India-US-Japan naval exercise, the latest in the annual Malabar series, was underway simultaneously in the Indian Ocean. 

The joint India-China military exercise was the fifth exercise in the Hand-in-Hand series that began in 2007, but remained suspended for five years till it was resumed in 2013. Previous rounds were held in Yunnan in 2007, Belgaum in 2008, Sichuan in 2013 and Pune in 2014. Approximately 170-180 troops will participate in the exercise from each side. The Indian troops are from the 2nd Battalion, the Naga Regiment. 

In a statement released on the occasion, the Indian Embassy in China said, “The purpose of the exercise is to develop joint operating capability, share useful experience in counter-terrorism operations and to promote friendly exchanges between the armies of India and China.” Ashok K Kantha, the Indian ambassador, said during the inaugural ceremony that the exercise is “truly ‘joint’ in planning, command structure and in action.” 

According to General Zhou Xiaoxhou, Deputy Commander of Chengdu Military Region, “The joint military exercise will help enhance mutual understanding and communication and cooperation between the armed forces of India and China.” The aim of defence cooperation is to instil confidence between two militaries, share operational practices, doctrines and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and to train together for joint operations in future if a contingency arises that needs to be addressed jointly.
While these are excellent objectives, they appear to be rather far-fetched. Given China’s military assertiveness on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and repeated transgressions into areas that are clearly under Indian control, there appears to be no possibility of undertaking joint operations with the Chinese any time in the foreseeable future. 

Also, the counter-terrorism doctrines of the two countries have more divergences than commonalities. India believes in the use of minimum force and its security forces fight with one hand tied behind the back; and, operations to win hearts and minds through civic action are an intrinsic part of the strategy. The PLA’s strong arm methods include the employment of helicopter gunships and artillery to completely destroy buildings and even whole villages in which terrorists are hiding. 

Hence, at this stage of defence cooperation, joint military exercises have only limited utility as the really contentious issues are quite different. As long as the territorial and boundary dispute with China is unresolved, China will continue to remain India’s foremost military threat. The most important issue between India and China is to evolve and strictly adhere to measures to prevent incidents on the LAC. And, if an incident does occur, there should be measures in place to resolve it to th .. 

Many agreements have been signed in the past to achieve these aims. The most recent agreement is the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), signed during then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing in October 2013. The two sides should accord the highest priority to discussing the measures that are necessary to give practical effect to the implementation of these agreements so that the occurrence of destabilising incidents along the LAC can be minimised 

China rarely joins cooperative security arrangements that seek to ensure peace and stability and guarantee the security of the global commons, including the freedom of navigation in the sea lanes of communication for the free flow of trade, and the security of the space, air space and cyber space domains. As such, joint military exercises with the PLA do not go beyond providing a ‘feel good’ factor in a relationship that is fraught with the risk of conflict. 

Yet, there is a great deal to be gained through an opportunity to study one’s military adversary at close quarters – his standard of training, the state of his weapons and equipment, the relationship between the officers and the soldiers and his discipline and morale.