India and China are set to resume their annual Hand-in-Hand joint exercise this week. The exercise was last held in 2016; it was suspended in 2017 amid heightened tensions between the two countries following the disengagement of a standoff between their armed forces on the Doklam plateau, a piece of territory claimed by India-aligned Bhutan that is also claimed by China. This year’s iteration of the Hand-in-Hand exercise will be the 7th in the series.
The exercise will convene from December 11 to 23 in Chengdu, China, according to an Indian Army statement. “The aim of the exercise is to build and promote close relations between armies of both the countries and to enhance ability of joint exercise commander to take military contingents of both nations under command,” Lt. Col. Mohit Vaishnava of the Indian Army noted in a statement.
“The exercise will involve tactical level operations in an International Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorist environment under UN mandate,” Vaishnava added. “Exercise Hand-in-Hand 2018 will go a long way to further cement relationship between both the nations and will act as a catalyst in bringing bonhomie at grassroots levels between the armies of both countries.”
According to Chinese Ministry of Defense Col. Ren Guoqiang, the Chinese side will send a contingent of 100 People’s Liberation Army troops to participate in the drills. “Subjects of the joint training will include adaptive training, basic training, live-fire shooting and comprehensive drills,” Ren noted in a regular Defense Ministry press briefing at the end of November. “The joint training can help promote mutual trust and understanding, deepen practical exchanges and cooperation between troops and improve their capabilities in counter-terrorism.”
The exercise marks another example of a return to normal practice in military-to-military relations between the two countries after 2017, which saw bilateral ties dip precipitously. A summit meeting earlier this year, in April, between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan, China, saw the two leaders work to reset bilateral ties after the standoff of 2017.
“Prime Minister Modi and President Xi underlined that as two major countries India and China have wider and overlapping regional and global interests,” the declaration issued by the Indian side after the Wuhan meeting noted. In that same statement, the Indian side noted that Modi and Xi acknowledged the common challenge posed by terrorism to both their countries. Recently, Modi met Xi as part of a trilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and in the context of the five-country BRICS grouping on the sideline of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-hosted summits in Singapore.