(CNSNews.com) – China’s military on Thursday voiced objections to joint U.S.-India military exercises being conducted in the Himalayan foothills not far from India’s hotly disputed border with China, an area where the nuclear-armed Asian giants have clashed periodically – sometimes fatally – over the past 60 years.
Already underway for almost three weeks, the drills involving U.S. and Indian special forces personnel in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh are the 13th iteration of Vajra Prahar (“Thunderbolt Strike”), a regular exercise alternating between India and the U.S. that was first held in 2010.
But at a time when U.S.-China tensions are running especially high over Taiwan, the Chinese ministry of national defense (MND) expressed disapproval of the presence of U.S. combat troops 150 or so miles from Chinese territory.
Later this fall, another regular U.S.-India military exercise, known as Yudh Abhyas (“War Practice”) is scheduled to be held in Uttarakhand, the state neighboring Himachal Pradesh, and in that case less than 60 miles from the disputed frontier known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
MND spokesman Senior Colonel Tan Kefei told a briefing that China has always stressed military cooperation and exercises between countries should not target any third party, “but rather serve to help maintain regional peace and stability.”
“We are closely watching the situation,” he said, referring both to the exercises now underway and those planned for October even closer to Chinese soil.
Tan suggested that the drills were in some way related to the long-running standoff between China and India over the LAC and surrounding territory.
He said the border dispute was a matter between China and India, which maintain effective communications and have agreed to handle the situation through bilateral dialogue.
“We firmly oppose any third party to meddle in the China-India border issue in any form,” he said.
Tan also pointed to agreements signed by the two countries in 1993 and 1996, and said they prohibited either country from holding military exercises “targeting each other” in areas near the LAC.
“It is hoped that the Indian side will strictly abide by the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and the relevant agreements, uphold its commitment to resolving border issues through bilateral channels, and maintain peace and tranquility in the border area with practical actions.”
A Chinese expert quoted by the Chinese Communist Party organ Global Times described the joint exercises as part of a campaign by the U.S. to “contain” China
While India was involving the U.S. in a bid to counterbalance China in the region, the U.S. was using India to advance its “Indo-Pacific strategy,” said Chinese Academy of Social Sciences academic Yuan Zheng.
“The U.S. is obviously not willing to see harmony between China and India, but rather conflicts between the two Asian countries,” he said. “Therefore, it is attempting to fully exploit the differences between China and India on the boundary issue.”
India’s external affairs ministry batted away the criticism.
“I don't understand the reference to third party interference,” spokesman Arindam Bagchi told reporters on Thursday night. “The India-U.S. exercises are something completely different.”
Bagchi said he did not know what “color” China was ascribing to the exercise. He had not information to the effect that it was “violating any existing agreement.”
On the reference to the India-China agreements of 1993 and 1996, the spokesman said India maintains precisely that the “two sides should stick to agreements in the past – and obviously that has not happened.”
An Indian defense ministry spokesman said earlier the joint exercises were designed to “share best practices and experiences in areas such as joint mission planning and operational tactics” and to improve interoperability between the two nations’ special forces.
The ministry said participants would “jointly train, plan and execute a series of special operations, counter terrorist operations, [and] air borne operations in simulated conventional and unconventional scenarios in mountainous terrain.”
“This joint exercise is a significant step in strengthening the traditional bond of friendship between the special forces of both nations as well as improve bilateral defense cooperation.”
India and the U.S. are members of the Quad, an Asia-Pacific security alliance whose other participants are Japan, and Australia.
China and India fought a month-long war along the roughly demarcated border in 1962, and skirmishes in various sectors of the LAC have occurred over the decades since.
In 2020, 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers were killed in the Ladakh area, in the first deadly clash between the two sides since 1975.
India accused China of violating the 1993 and 1996 agreements – the same agreements cited on Thursday by China’s defense ministry – by bringing large numbers of troops into the border area. Beijing denied that.
The incident resulted in a chill in bilateral relations that has yet to thaw, prompting New Delhi among other actions to ban TikTok and dozens of other Chinese phone and computer apps.
The Trump administration laid the blame squarely on Beijing, with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing the Chinese of “incredibly aggressive action.”
“I’d put this in the context of General Secretary Xi Jinping and his behavior throughout the region, and indeed, throughout the world,” Pompeo told reporters at the time.