China and India are preparing to hold their first joint naval exercises. The drill marks an improvement in relations between the two neighbors.

China's relations with India have historically been rocky due in part to the strong ties that Chinese leaders have maintained with India's nuclear rival, Pakistan.

Indian diplomats on Thursday said the two countries will hold joint search and rescue exercises off the Chinese coast next week. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue confirmed the report.

Ms. Zhang says the drill will benefit both countries and help both sides develop good relations and trust. She said China attaches great importance to developing good relations not only with India, but with Pakistan as well.

Analysts say the one-day exercise with India is part of a diplomatic strategy in which China, by developing good relations with both India and Pakistan simultaneously, is asserting itself as a significant influence in South Asia.

Observers say the strategy marks a departure from the past, when China would risk angering either of the two enemies by strengthening relations with one or the other.

Last month, China conducted similar naval exercises with Pakistan for the first time. Ties were strengthened further this week when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited Beijing and finalized a deal securing Chinese cooperation in the building of a nuclear power plant in Pakistan's central Punjab province.