China and India began a small joint military exercise Wednesday, the first time two countries have cooperated militarily at that high a level.
The past rivals, who fought a brief war over a border dispute in 1962, have grown ever closer in recent years, mostly due to burgeoning trade ties, Agence France-Presse reports.
"The aim of the training is to enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust between the Chinese and Indian militaries," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said.
India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of its territory, while Beijing claims the whole of the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is 90,000 square kilometers.
However ties between the regional rivals have thawed since the 1990s, and trade between the two has flourished in recent years.
Qin played down the effects of the lingering border dispute, emphasizing the world's two biggest developing countries had much in common on international issues.
The exercise is being billed as an antiterror drill by the two sides, which The Guardian newspaper points out emphasizes what the two countries have in common: Concerns about separatism in their far-flung possessions.
Around 100 troops from India joined their Chinese counterparts in China's south-western province of Yunnan for the exercise, codenamed 'Hand-in-Hand 2007'.
Years of frosty relations improved when the two countries signed a treaty in 1993, agreeing to reduce troop levels on the border. Beijing said the exercise was designed to address what it referred to as the "three evil forces" of "separatism, extremism and terrorism".
Both countries have sought to suppress minority groups campaigning for greater autonomy. China has repeatedly cracked down against what it regards as violent Muslim separatist in Uighur province while Delhi's rule in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir has long been challenged by Pakistan-based forces.
Indeed, the Indian contingent is largely made up of troops stationed in Kashmir, The Indian Express reported.
The China Daily reports that the era of tense relations and armed confrontation between the two giants may now be over.
Swaran Singh, associate professor at the School of International Studies at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: "This reflects the growing mutual trust and understanding between the two sides, including between their military establishments."
China and India last year signed a memorandum of understanding to institutionalize training and exercise exchanges and other contacts between the two militaries.
The Telegraph, Calcutta-based daily, suggests in an editorial that growing trade ties are leading to the thaw in Sino-Indian relations, but also argues that the potential for rivalry remains and urges India to maintain its nuclear weapons on that basis.
The recent description (of China) by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh… as India's "greatest neighbour" captures the essence of the complex relationship between the world's two most populous countries.
It is expected that by 2010 bilateral trade will amount to over $40 billion a year. Indeed, the view of India and China as two ancient civilizations with strong past links in partnership in the modern world has many takers in both countries. However, it is China that is still identified — by many within India's strategic community — as the most likely source of insecurity for New Delhi and the greatest potential threat to Indian interests in the long-term future.
The strategy must not be to position New Delhi explicitly as a counterweight to China, but to slowly and surely enlarge the space of Indian interests, from the Malacca Strait to the Persian Gulf, in order that India emerges, potentially in the medium-term future, as a key balancer to China. Finally, India must build an effective minimum nuclear deterrent vis à vis China, through a triad of sea, land and air forces.