Even as Indian and Chinese senior military commanders began their eighth round of discussions for a possible resolution of the six-month-long standoff in eastern Ladakh on Friday morning, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat attributed the tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to “transgressions and belligerent actions by the Chinese” and said India will not accept any change in the LAC and that status quo has to be restored. He underlined that a large scale conflict cannot be ruled out, and also stressed that collusion between Pakistan and China poses an “omnipresent danger”.
Speaking at a seminar to mark the 60th anniversary of India’s premier strategic thinking institute National Defence College, of which Rawat is an alumnus, the CDS said that “in the overall security calculus a full-scale conflict with China is low on probability, however, border confrontations, transgressions and unprovoked tactical military actions spiraling into a larger conflict cannot be discounted”.
“The situation along the LAC in eastern Ladakh remains tense amidst transgressions and belligerent actions by the Chinese,” he said, and added that the Peoples Liberation Army “is facing unanticipated consequences of its misadventure in Ladakh because of Indian Army’s firm and strong response”.
“Our posturing is unambiguous, status quo has to be restored and we will not accept any shifting of the LAC,” the CDS said.
In reference to the joint threat posed by Pakistan and China, Rawat said that “India faces myriad external security challenges” and mentioned “constant friction with two of our nuclear armed neighbours with whom India has fought wars” are “increasingly acting in collusion” and it “poses an omnipresent danger of regional strategic instability with potential for escalation, threatening our territorial integrity and strategic cohesion”.
Predicting that India’s relations with China will continue to be competitive, he said that the “persisting boundary dispute, China’s support to Pakistan, it’s increasing influence in South Asia through BRI projects and an unbalanced economic relationship is likely to ensure that in near future the Sino-India relationship will remain a fundamentally competitive one”.
Even as the Indian Ocean “remains a zone of peace, albeit, one of continued contestation”, Rawat said that “of late we are witnessing a geo-strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, and the race for strategic places and bases in the Indian Ocean Region is only going to gain momentum with time”.
He said that the “future would witness increasing militarisation of the key Belt and Road outposts” in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), in relation to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
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China with its ambition of emerging as a global power, Rawat said, is already making inroads into South Asia, and their aspirations “are evident in the ever-expanding Chinese military maritime footprints in the Indo-Pacific”.
“The economic slowdown due to the pandemic has made China repressive at home but aggressive abroad as is evident through its posturing in South China Sea, East China Sea and the Taiwan Straits. For India, the challenges have manifested with military flare-ups along the LAC. In the coming years we are likely to witness aggressive pursuit of hegemonic interests by China manifesting through economic exploitation of weaker nations, military modernization and increased contestation with the West,” he said.
Talking about the reforms needed in the Indian armed forces to be prepared for the future, Rawat said that in the “emerging security paradigm armed forces should be structured in a manner that they provide the operational flexibility to pursue wider strategic objectives as well as resource optimization”.
The “foremost” reform, he said, “is to is to adopt the Integrated Theatre Command system, which has the potential to unlock critical core strengths within the three services, to bridge limitations and complement each other’s competencies in battle to realise the full potential of our combat power”.
Numerous initiatives have been taken by India diplomatically to “hedge the adverse consequences of the changes underway,” he said, and mentioned that “we have built closer relations through Quad, defence collaborations and weapons purchase from the US, Israel and France and joint exercises with ASEAN countries”.
He added that “we are already rearranging the geopolitics of South Asia and charting new vistas of cooperation through the Neighbourhood First policy, leaving aside an incorrigible neighbour”.
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