NEW DELHI: India continues to slowly but steadily build military-to-military ties with China, even as it keeps its armed forces on high operational readiness along the western front with Pakistan for any contingency after the cross-border surgical strikes of September 29.

India and China, after holding their first-ever joint tactical exercises in eastern Ladakh and Sikkim along the disputed 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) earlier this year, are now getting set for their annual ‘Hand-in-Hand’ (HiH) combat exercise at Aundh, near Pune in Maharashtra, from November 15 to 27.

Sources said the sixth edition of the HiH exercise, which has emerged as a major confidence-building measure between the world’s largest and second-largest standing armies, will see participation from over 170 troops from the recently-upgraded Tibet Military Command of People’s Liberation Army.

Armed with weaponry ranging from 12.7mm anti-material rifles and flame-throwers to “corner-shooting systems” and laser-blinding devices, the PLA troops will practice counter-terrorism drills with Maratha Light Infantry soldiers equipped with their own specialised weapons.

The exercise will also focus on “trans-national terrorism”, with China grappling with the expanding influence of jihadist group Islamic State in Xinjiang, as India deals with cross-border militancy actively fuelled by Pakistan.

China has long used Pakistan to bog India down in south Asia. Apart from the stark military asymmetry, India remains worried about China’s major upgrade of military infrastructure all along the LAC as well as the PLA’s expanding footprint in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. To make matters worse, China has also blocked India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, as also the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist by the UN.

But brushing aside such irritants, India is stepping up its defence ties with China with more military exercises, top-level visits, hotlines and other CBMs, while also boosting its military deterrence along the LoC, as earlier reported by Times of India.

While the LoC with Pakistan remains volatile with almost daily exchanges of fire, the LAC has not seen a single shot being fired for decades. There has also been a slight decline in troop face-offs between India and China after the two inked the border defence cooperation agreement in October 2013. But “transgressions” across the LAC – military euphemism for troop incursions — continue unabated with over 200 such incidents being recorded this year.

The first two editions of the HiH exercises were held at Kunming (China) in 2007 and Belgaum in 2008 but were then frozen after diplomatic spats over visa and other issues in 2009-2010. After being revived in 2013, with the third edition being held at Miaoergang in China, the exercise has now become a regular feature.