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India-China Joint Anti-Terror Exercise: An Assessment

The Chinese Armed Forces have been holding joint anti-terrorism exercises with the armed forces of different countries since 2002. Till August,2007, they had held the following anti-terror exercises :

  1. Oct. 10-11, 2002: The Chinese and the Kyrgyzstan armies held a joint anti-terror military exercise code-named ” Exercise-01″ on the border of the two countries.

  2. Aug. 6-12, 2003: Armed Forces from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan took part in a joint anti-terror exercise code-named “Coalition-2003” in Kazakhstan’s border city of Ucharal and Ili and in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It was a multilateral exercise under the auspices of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO). About 1,300 troops participated in the exercise.

  3. Aug. 6, 2004: Armed Forces of China and Pakistan held their first-ever joint anti-terrorism exercise code-named “Friendship-2004” in Xinjiang’s Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County, which is located on the Pamirs at over 4,000 meters, bordering Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. About 200 border troops from both sides participated.

  4. Aug. 18-25, 2005:China and Russia held their first joint anti-terror military exercise code-named “Peace Mission-2005”. The one-week exercise , which involved 10,000 troops from the two countries, started in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East and later moved to east China’s Shandong Peninsula.

  5. Sept. 22-23, 2006:China and Tajikistan held their first joint anti-terror military exercise code-named “Coordination-2006” in Kulyab, Tajikistan. More than 300 Tajik troops from the artillery, infantry and airborne divisions and about 150 Chinese troops participated.

  6. Dec.11-18, 2006: Armed Forces of China and Pakistan held their second joint anti-terror military exercise code-named “Friendship-2006” in the hilly area of northern Pakistan’s Abbottabad. More than 400 troops from both armies took part.

  7. July 16-29, 2007:China and Thailand held their first-ever combined anti-terror training of special troops code-named “Strike-2007” in Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province. The two-week exercise involved 30 soldiers from the special commando forces of the two countries.

  8. Aug. 9-17, 2007, Under the auspices of the SCO, a second joint anti-terrorism military exercise code-named “Peace Mission-2007” was held in Chelyabinsk in Russia’s Ural mountainous region and Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. More than 4,000 troops from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan participated in the exercise, the largest of its kind within the framework of the SCO since the organization was founded on June 15, 2001.

2. Thus, till August,2007, China had participated in eight anti-terror military exercises. Of these, two were multilateral under the SCO and the remaining six bilateral—- two with Pakistan and one each with Russia,Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan and Thailand. The smallest in terms of troop participation was with Thailand and the largest with Russia. The bilateral exercise with Russia was even larger than the multilateral exercises under the SCO.

3. The following were the defining characteristics of these exercises:

  1. Totally confined to the Armed Forces. No participation by civilian counter-terrorism agencies either as observers or in any other capacity.

  2. The focus was on the military (commando) approach to counter-terrorism in certain situations such as cross-border terrorism, hostage-taking in urban areas and aircraft hijacking.

  3. The objective of the exercises was to familiarise each other with their respective capabilities for countering terrorism, with their training methods and methods of action; to demonstrate separately each other’s methods of action and to have a joint exercise at the end in which the two sides can test their ability to act jointly.

  4. There was no brain-storming on the experiences and insights of the participants in dealing with specific situations in the past and the lessons drawn.

4. The limited scope of these exercises did not permit them to be trend-setters in the joint fight against terrorism. Their main achievement was in enabling military officers of the participating countries to get to know each other and in increasing their comfort level towards each other.

5. The first India-China joint anti-terror military exercise (“Hand-in-Hand,2007”) held at Kunming in the Yunnan province of China from December 19 to 25,2007, which involved 103 troops each from the two armies,was no different in its scope and limited significance from the eight exercises held earlier with other countries. This was admitted by the Chinese themselves in a round-up of the exercise carried by the “People’s Daily” on December 26,2007. It said: “Although some military and diplomatic observers said that the joint training is more symbolic than substantial, many acknowledged that the point is not the scale of the joint training or what specific anti-terrorism skills are involved. The point is that the soldiers on both sides are moving toward each other in a friendly way.”

6. The comments of Chinese officials and non-governmental analysts too stressed the significance of the exercise in the larger context of State-to-State and military-military relations and not in the specific context of their political willingness to fight against terrorism jointly. To quote some of these comments:

  1. Mr. Ye Hailin, of the Asia-Pacific Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: “It is great progress. It demonstrates that the military mutual-trust has markedly improved, which is beneficial to regional security”.

  2. Mr.Ma Jiali, a research fellow of the Academy of China Contemporary International Relations:”The military relationship between China and India is like half a glass of water. Optimists will say we’re lucky to have half a glass of water, while pessimists will sigh and say we have only half a glass.In any case, the first-ever military training between the two armies will help boost the bilateral relations of China and India.”

  3. Lt.Gen.Ma Xiaotian, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, who headed the Chinese military observer delegation to the joint exercise: “There are border issues yet to be resolved, because the two sides have different stances and take different approaches to problems.China insists on solving problems through negotiation, which requires communication and understanding between the two sides.The joint exercises will play an active role in enhancing understanding and trust and deepening defense exchanges and cooperation. China will continue to push forward military exchanges and cooperation with India in an effort to safeguard regional security and stability.Military ties are an important part of bilateral relations. Military cooperation will be carried on in the spirit of mutual respect, equal consultation and mutual benefits to contribute to the building of a harmonious region with long-lasting peace and common prosperity.Promoting military communication and cooperation will play an important role in developing strategic partnership of the two neighbors, also the leading developing nations in the world.A number of bilateral military exchanges in recent years, including official visits, meetings on defense and safety issues, and searching and rescue manoeuver on the sea, reflected the common efforts and desire of both sides in deepening cooperation.”

  4. Mr.Qin Gang,Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman: “The military training was intended to enhance mutual understanding and trust and strengthen bilateral exchanges in the field of anti-terrorism, deter the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and promote the development of the bilateral strategic partnership.”

7. The exercise, which was held at a hilly terrain near Kunming, had the following theme:” 56 “terrorists” from “an international terrorist organization” have entered the border area of China and India. They have “established” a training base and intend to attack a trading post on the border between the two countries. The two armies establish a joint command post and joint battle decision-making and carry out an anti-terrorism operation before wiping out the group of “terrorists” and rescuing the hostages.”

8. The theme reflected more Chinese concerns over the possibility of alleged Tibetan extremists from the diaspora staging cross-border raids into Tibet in the event of instability in Tibet after the death of the Dalai Lama. This theme would be of little relevance to India since we have no reason to fear any cross-border terrorism against India originating from Chinese territory unless one day Al Qaeda seizes control of Xinjiang in China and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) of Pakistan. Such a possibility is remote.

9. A more useful theme would have been to visualise different terrorist scenarios during and before next year’s Beijing Olympics and see how the intelligence,counter-terrorism agencies and the armed forces of the two countries could co-operate with each other to deal with the situation.

10. Even though there is no convergence of assessments between India and China on what is terrorism and which are the terrorist organisations, which should be of common concern to the two countries, certain kinds of scenarios should be of common concern—such as a Munich-1972 like scenario during the Beijing Olympics; aircraft hijacking; threats to the Embassies of the two countries etc. Neither side will allow the other to join in any counter-terrorist operations inside its territory, but there can be an exchange of ideas and expertise as to how deal with such situations.

11. That should be the objective of future co-operation between the two countries against terrorism. Far-fetched scenarios such as the two armies mounting a joint operation against a large group of terrorists across the Sino-Indian border will serve little purpose professionally. (26-12-07)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:

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