China and India began their first-ever joint naval exercises off Shanghai's coast yesterday, the boldest step yet in the steadily improving relationship between the giant neighbors and former foes -- and a new twist in the Asian security picture.
Three Indian navy ships are taking part in the maritime safety and search-and-rescue exercises, which also include helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, according to Indian media reports.
The Press Trust of India said the exercises began yesterday morning, with the guided-missile destroyer INS Ranjit and guided-missile corvette INS Kulish sailing into the East China Sea to rendezvous with the Chinese frigate Jiaxing and tanker Feng Chang. An Indian supply tanker remained in port.
"We believe that this cooperation will further enhance friendly relations and improve further understanding between the two sides," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (
The day of drills follows similar exercises off Shanghai last month involving the Chinese navy and warships from Pakistan, China's longtime ally and India's primary antagonist. Those exercises marked the first-ever joint naval exercises between Chinese ships and the navy of another nation since the founding of the PRC in 1949.
The earlier exercises may have been aimed at reassuring Pakistan that improvements in Beijing's ties with India won't undermine long-standing close relations with Islamabad.
"China has normal state-to-state relations with Pakistan, and this exercise will not affect relations with Pakistan,"Liu said.
Those exercises were nearly identical in content to the Chinese-Indian exercises, involving two Pakistani ships and about 700 sailors and men in a simulated joint search-and-rescue and anti-terror operation.
PTI quoted the Indian commander, Rear Admiral R.P. Suthan, as saying the exercises yesterday were set to last three-and-a-half hours. The Indian Embassy in Bei-jing had no immediate comment yesterday morning.
China's Defense Ministry has not permitted foreign media to view the exercises.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to the exercises during a visit to Beijing earlier this year.
The Indian ships arrived in Shanghai on Monday and have been docked off the Bund, Shanghai's riverfront financial district.
Chinese media reported 985 Indian sailors and officers sailed with the three ships.
The reports said that during the exercise, the two navies would coordinate a search for a vessel that issued an imaginary distress signal and launch a joint recovery operation.
"The exercises don't really include much real military content, but they are do have a very powerful symbolic significance" in terms of marking progress in ties between the two countries, an official Communist Party newspaper, Liberation Daily, said on Wednesday.