NEW DELHI - India and China announced Tuesday they would resume joint military exercises after a four-year gap, a move designed to build trust in the often prickly relationship between the world’s two most populous nations.

After Indian Defence Minister AK Antony hosted talks with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie, the pair told reporters they had debated some of the main sources of friction between the two sides and agreed a series of measures.

“We have decided that (to restart military exercises),” Antony told reporters after his meeting with Liang, the first Chinese defence minister to visit the Indian capital in eight years.

“We covered a lot about the situation in the South Asia, Asia-Pacific region,” Antony said. “We had a very frank and heart-to-heart discussion on all the issues... including in the border areas.”

The disputed border between India and China has been the subject of 14 rounds of fruitless talks since 1962, when the two nations fought a brief, bloody war over the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China’s buildup of military infrastructure along the frontier has become a major source of concern for India, which increasingly sees Beijing as a longer-term threat to its security.

The two Asian giants have had an often fractious relationship over their shared border, and they halted joint military manoeuvres after 2008 due to a series of diplomatic spats including over visa issues.

But Liang confirmed that there was now a mutual desire to move forward. “We have reached a consensus on high-level visits and exchange of personnel, maritime security... and cooperation between the two navies,” Liang said after Tuesday’s talks. “I had candid and practical discussion with the defence minister,” he added.

Liang’s four-day visit also comes amid Indian fears about increased Chinese activity in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh which New Delhi sees as within its sphere of influence.

While in Sri Lanka before arriving in India, Liang stressed that China sought only “harmonious co-existence” with other countries.

Ian Anthony, an analyst with Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think-tank, said improved ties between India and China would benefit the international community as a whole.

“We have two countries which are emerging as important players in the international scene,” Anthony told AFP by telephone from Stockholm.

“Both have significant military capacities and both are going to play an important role in the future in determining global security and stability and so it is for everybody’s benefit they have a positive and friendly bilateral relationship.”

However SD Muni, a strategic analyst with the Singapore-based Institute of South Asian Studies, said that Beijing was reluctant to resolve its border disputes with India in a hurry.

“The Chinese do not seem to be in a hurry to resolve the border issue and they have not moved much except for exchanging some maps so far as there seems to be a broad understanding to go slowly on the dispute,” he said.

The first Indian and Chinese exercises were held in China’s Kunming region in 2007, and the second in India in 2008 but the third round was put off over claims that Beijing refused a visa to an Indian commander stationed in disputed Kashmir. Indian defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar said the two ministers had also agreed on measures designed to help combat rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.

“The two defence ministers agreed to work together to enhance mutual trust in the security field and continue to maintain peace and tranquillity in the India, China border areas,” Kar told AFP.