China's air force on Saturday began joint training exercises with its Pakistan counterpart, posing a new challenge to India's defence preparedness and the US efforts to increase its influence in Asia.
Militaries of the two countries, which call each other "all-weather friends'' will strengthen operational ties, reports quoted sources at China's defence ministry as saying.
"With ties underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to hedge against US influence in Asia.
"China's Air Force hopes to widen the scope of cooperation and dialogue with all countries and regions," the Chinese defence ministry said in a statement on its website, adding that the exercise, called "Shaheen V," would run until 30 April.
Besides the bogey of threat from India, Pakistan and China need each other to bolster each other's strengths. China needs Pakistan's help to weed out militancy at its far western Xinjiang region whereas lawless ethnic Pashtun areas on Pakistan-Afghan border with a mix of Taliban and al Qaeda elements act as support base.
Pakistan is looking to 'all-weather friend' China to replenish its armory as supplies from the West deplete.
Although the US has been supplying Pakistan with its F-6 fighter aircraft to fight the militants, these are not considered effective, at least numerically.
Pakistan is now dependent on a mostly outmoded fleet of US, French and Chinese fighter jets that Pakistani officials fear can do little against Indian fighter jets or help target domestic insurgents.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Pakistan Air Force second-in-command Muhammad Ashfaque Arain said he saw the purchase of more F-16s as economically unfeasible. Instead, Islamabad plans to invest in a joint fighter programme with China, the JF-17.
China is also simultaneously engaging Sri Lanka, to push the Colombo port project.
India, meanwhile, is in talks with the United States to purchase 40 Predator surveillance drones, which, officials said, could be a first step towards acquiring the armed version of the aircraft.
India is trying to equip the military with more unmanned technologies to gather intelligence as well as boost its firepower along the vast land borders with Pakistan and China. It also wants a closer eye on the Indian Ocean.
New Delhi has already acquired surveillance drones from Israel to monitor the mountainous Kashmir through which Pakistan continues to unleash its terrorists on India.