NEW DELHI: India and China now plan to hold regular meetings among their top operational commanders in tune with the stepped-up military confidence-building measures being implemented to manage and defuse troop face-offs, with both sides realising that a political settlement of the long-standing boundary issue will take time.

The two countries on Tuesday agreed to military exchanges at different levels, including between the commanders-in-chief of the Indian Eastern Army Command (EAC) and Chinese Chengdu Military Region (CMR) as well as Northern Army Command (NAC) and Lanzhou Military Region (LMR).

This came after a delegation-level meeting, led by Army vice-chief Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag and visiting Chinese deputy chief of general staff (operations) Lt Gen Qi Jianguo. The eight-member Chinese delegation also called on Army chief General Bikram Singh and defence secretary RK Mathur later.

“The face-to-face meetings among the commanders of the EAC-CMR and NAC-LMR, which will be held every year, are significant since troops from these commands man the entire 4,057km line of actual control (LAC),” said a source.

The top-level contacts, of course, will not be restricted to just the military. While Chinese defence minister General Chang Wanquan is already scheduled to visit India after the new government assumes office here in May-June, President Xi Jinping might also come calling later in the year.

On Tuesday, the focus was on making the new border defence cooperation agreement (BDCA), inked during PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing last October, fully operational on the ground.

The two sides discussed implementation of “different practical measures”, which ranged from hotlines between formation commanders and additional border personnel meeting (BPM) points to “small platoon-level tactical exercises” and “no-tailing” of each other’s patrols along the LAC.

It was also decided that the slightly larger bilateral “Hand-in-Hand” counter-terrorism exercise will be conducted at Barrackpore (West Bengal) in November, the first three editions of which were held in Kunming (2007), Belgaum (2008) and Miaoergang (2013).

After getting conflicting signals from the Chinese military and diplomatic channels during the “unusual” 21-day face-off in April-May last year when PLA troops intruded 19km into Depsang valley in DBO sector of eastern Ladakh, India is keen on “greater predictability” to defuse troop confrontations. Consequently, India has pushed for “direct” communication with the People’s Liberation Army’s top hierarchy in Beijing, which includes Lt Gen Qi Jianguo.

With both armies conducting “aggressive patrolling” to lay claim to disputed areas, the BDCA now provides a robust mechanism to de-escalate stand-offs. It holds both armies will “exercise maximum self-restraint” if a face-to-face situation develops, as also have the right to “seek a clarification from the other side” if “a doubtful situation arises” where there is “no common understanding” of the LAC.