Getting to know the PLA better: aim of military CBMs

Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh leaves for China late tonight as part of the new emphasis on increased military to military contacts between the armed forces of India and China. An Indian Army Chief is visiting China after a long gap of nine years. 

Gen Singh is scheduled to meet the Vice President but more importantly, the Indian Army Chief will have one-on-one meetings with the Vice Chairman of the all-powerful Central Military Commission and the Chief of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army.
The Indian Army Chief will also address China’s National Defence University. But the three-day visit of the Army Chief is just part of the 2014 plan to enhance defence exchanges between the two countries that treat each other warily not the least because of the 1962 border war but also because of their long-standing border dispute. According to the plan drawn up at the beginning of this year, 10 Chinese and 9 Indian military delegations are to visit each other throughout this year. 

While a Chinese PLA delegation led by one of its top most military leaders, the deputy chief of general staff (operations)  Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, visited India in April, a team from Indian Army’s Eastern Command is scheduled to visit the Lanzhou Military Area Command. 

This week for the first time, a Chinese military-media delegation will be in India to hold talks with the Indian Defence Ministry’s media’s and publicity wing. Led by a Senior Col (equivalent to a Brigadier of the Indian Army), in charge of Information Affairs Bureau under the ministry of National Defence, this team will be briefed in details about media policies and media interaction model of the Indian armed forces by officers of the Indian Army’s media and perception management wing. The Chinese delegation will also visit the Indian troops that have participated in the UN Peacekeeping missions and the Delhi-based National Defence College.  

As reported earlier, during the April visit of the high level Chinese delegation, India and China earmarked four locations along their contested border for holding emergency meetings to quickly resolve possible standoffs.  

These locations, all in Ladakh, are Track Junction, Pangang Tso Lake, Demchock and Chumar. The locations were finalized late last month when held day-long talks with an Indian Army team led by the vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Dalbir Singh.  All the four locations have been witness to standoffs and intrusions in recent times, leading to tension at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the unsettled border between the two countries is known. 

In addition to the four flag meeting points, the two countries have also decided to open two more locations for holding scheduled annual meetings between senior field officers. So far these annual conferences known as Border Personnel Meetings take place at Bumla in Arunachal Pradesh, Nathula in Siukkim and Chushul in Ladakh. From now on, troops across the nearly 4,000-km long LAC will have two more places–Kibithoo in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh and Mana Pass in Uttarakhand–to meet at least four times a year, on the occasion of each others’ national days. 

The two sides also decided to establish a hotline between the Indian Army’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and an equivalent officer in the PLA HQ in Beijing. 

All these decisions are part of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that New Delhi and Beijing have decided to pursue after the signing of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) signed by the Prime Ministers of the two countries in October 2013.

The plan to increase the frequency of military-to-military contacts will get a further boost when a two year plan to post Indian Naval and an Air Force Attaches is implemented by end-2014. So far only an Indian Army Colonel and a Lt Col were posted in the Indian Embassy in Beijing.
Indian security establishment is however not letting the CBMs come in the way of building and strengthening India’s defences in Ladakh. Over the past one year, India has moved an additional infantry brigade (3,000) troops into Ladakh to primarily look after the security of Sub-Sector North (SSN) under which the Depsang plains fall.

Last year the Chinese troops had intruded in this area and created a standoff. India’s presence was limited in the area till then. In addition to additional troops, India has also for the first time, moved a regiment of tanks in Ladakh to support the existing deployment. The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force has also speeded up the infrastructure development in Ladakh. For instance, many strategically important roads  have been taken up for faster completion and two important adavanced landing grounds at Nyoma and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) have been upgraded to allow more landings by the bigger transport aircraft of the IAF including the C-130J Super Hercules.