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Indian and Chinese troops take part in the India-China joint training exercise

Opinion: China and India make a breakthrough in internal security cooperation

The Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi is to arrive in New Delhi on October 22. Among his engagements and agreements, his meeting with Indian Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, is expected to include the signing of a much anticipated and also unprecedented bilateral agreement on internal security cooperation. This agreement is unprecedented for both bilateral relations and for India which, so far, has no such agreement with any other nation.

Marking the immediate backdrop to this visit, on October 15, China and India launched their first joint training program for 10 Afghan diplomats at the New Delhi Foreign Service Institute. As part of their evolving "China-India Plus" model, these joint projects are expected to expand to other sectors like agriculture, poverty alleviation, and medical services related to joint ventures in Afghanistan.

This new model is being pegged as the most visible outcome of the "Wuhan spirit" that started at the informal Xi-Modi summit in April which is credited for resetting their bilateral relations. Now, moving much beyond these soft sectors, the newfound "Wuhan spirit" seems set to trigger new possibilities for conceptualizing bilateral arrangements on sensitive topics such as internal security.

This proposed agreement will cover sharing best cooperation methods in disaster management and sharing intelligence and exchange programs for internal security practitioners. Such interactions are bound to generate a better understanding of complex issues, like defining terrorism.

Terrorism has come to be the most formidable challenge of our times, and with the sustained trend of the US' withdrawal from many of its global responsibilities, the onus increasingly lies with emerging economies like China and India. They must first build their mutual trust to stand up to various shared challenges.

Also, such inordinate aims often have positive spin-offs for soothing and solving bilateral irritations. Along with these new opportunities for interactions among their internal security practitioners, we recently witnessed the revival of their "hand-in-hand" counter-terrorism military exercises. These were suspended because of the incident in Dong Lang (Doklam) last year.

This bonhomie should now facilitate cooperation in raising awareness and resolving how to tackle the unending menace of global terrorism. Representatives of the two militaries are already scheduled to meet in Chengdu from November 1-3, where they will finalize details of the "hand-to-hand" military exercises to be held in mid-December.

India will be represented by troops from its Northern Command, and they will face the military from China's Chengdu Military Region. It is interesting to note that even these military exercises will focus on their internal security challenges. They will interact in three stages – familiarization, basic training, and joint exercises to counter terrorism, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

Going forward, there are talks about how the interactions can further the avenues cooperation on internal security. These include discussing modalities for the exchange of prisoners, or even for an extradition treaty between China and India.

The release of prisoners will be symbolic and will bring much-needed relief to them and their families, though the numbers are reportedly not too large – about a dozen Chinese in India prisons and about 10 Indians in Chinese prisons - but there could be more in the future.

In the end, what is equally important to underline is that such rapid rapprochement between China and India also carries deeper strategic implications beyond their bilateral equations.

To begin with, the sheer magnitude of their respective internal security apparatus. India's interior minister, Rajnath Singh manages India's eight central armed police forces with combined strength of over a million and Zhao Kezhi's Ministry of Public Security is in charge of China's law enforcement, which is twice the size of India's overall. The People's Armed Police alone accounts for 1.5 million.

Any expanded interface here can directly contribute to greater regional and global roles in various post-conflict, peace-building, relief and rehabilitation missions, which will remain important for maximizing the efficacy of their expanding commerce and connectivity.

National security challenges today no longer flow from conventional inter-state wars but largely from low-intensity violence from terrorists and insurgencies which enjoy sanctuary and support from outside national boundaries. Therefore, no nation can address these internal security challenges by itself, which beg for enhancing bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

So this bold initiative for sharing notes on understanding and addressing their internal security challenges marks a major step forward.

Swaran Singh is a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, senior fellow at the Charhar Institute in Beijing and senior Fellow at the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka. His opinion is independent and does not reflect the view of the government of Sri Lanka or INSSSL.