Chinese transgressions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) remain a potential trigger for escalation, and violation of existing border agreements and protocols by the neighbouring country remains a concern for India, Army Chief General Manoj Pande has said.
Gen Pande’s comments — the strongest ever on China from a top officer in recent years — came during his speech at the second Strategic Dialogue on Rise of China and its implications for the world, organised by Savitribai Phule Pune University and New Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy on Monday.
It also marks a policy shift in India’s reference to China from 2012 — when Gen Bikram Singh had called it a peer competitor — to now.
Gen Pande’s direct statements on China also underline the situation at LAC, including at eastern Ladakh, where it continues to remain locked in a military standoff with India for the last three years. While some friction points in eastern Ladakh have been resolved after military talks between the two sides, incidents of transgressions and face-offs at Yangtse in the Tawang sector have come to light in the last two years.
Stating that the most important aspect of India’s operational environment remains its legacy challenges of unsettled and disputed borders, Gen Pande said pockets of disputes and contested claims to territory continue to exist due to differing perceptions of the alignment of the LAC. “Transgressions remain a potential trigger for escalation. Border management hence requires close monitoring, as infirmities in border management can lead to wider conflict,” he said.
Highlighting the four India-China agreements and protocols — of 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2013 — to maintain peace and tranquility along LAC, he said, “Of concern remains the violation of these by China, with their attempt to carry out transgressions across the LAC.”
The Army Chief said China has accrued significant capacities for force mobilisation, application, and sustenance of military operations consequent to development of infrastructure of military significance, including troops, airfields, helipads, or billeting structures. Towards this, he said, the Army’s strategic orientation and long-term capability development has been with a focus on the northern borders.
“We have carried out the required rebalancing of forces to affect the desired response metric on the northern borders. We have adequate reserves and are prepared to deal with any contingency,” he said. “Our preparedness remains of a higher order, and troops continue to deal with the PLA in a firm, resolute, and measured manner while ensuring the sanctity of our claims.”
Gen Pande said adherence to existing protocols and agreements are a sine qua non to ensure peace along the LAC. “The LAC needs to be respected, and disputes should be resolved through established mechanisms, and not through unilateral application of force by troops on ground to alter the status quo.”
Stating that maintaining peace and tranquility on the border forms the key basis of development of relations in other fields, he said the situation along the LAC needs to return to normal, and status quo must be restored before bilateral relations can move forward.
Talking about what makes China’s interpretation of an international rules-based order rests on “might is right,” apparent, he pointed to the country’s forays in the South China Sea, rejection of international tribunal awards on maritime claims, activities in Taiwan Strait, and actions along the LAC “bordering on bellicosity”.
He said the rapid expansion of the Chinese Navy reflects its extra-regional power projection intentions, and the proliferation of its military weapons equipment and technology is of concern. Gen Pande emphasised that China’s rise as a power — politically, technologically and militarily — has accorded it a new hierarchical position in the world order which it intends to lead.
“Brokering peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and putting forth the Chinese 12-point peace plan for ending the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is reflective of a Chinese urgency to replace the US as the global net security provider,” he said.
Gen Pande said Beijing is also trying to gain clout in international organisations — traditionally dominated by western nations — through steady acquisition of key official positions, use of economic leverages, and aggressive wolf-warrior diplomacy or bullying tactics.
The Army Chief also called China’s economic rise “multifaceted” and said that while the country is building an international network of coercion through predatory economics, it also claims to be pulling out more than 100 million of its people out of poverty. He said the country’s pursuit to expand the sphere of influence through economic manoeuvring, weaponisation of resource supply chains, financing large infrastructure projects with scant regard for environmental and safety standards, and saddling recipient countries with unsustainable debt are there for the world to see.
Gen Pande said issues of concern also continue to exist in cases of theft of intellectual property rights, stealing trade secrets and technology from foreign companies, as well as its unfair trade practices.
He said China’s technological pursuits have been characterised by systemic efforts to acquire technologies from the West. “This also entailed aggressively luring or poaching scientists and researchers from the West with unrestricted funding offers,” he said.
Gen Pande said China has established a vast lead in high-impact research across the majority of emerging technology domains of defence, space, robotics, energy, biotechnology, Al, advanced materials, hypersonic systems, 6G, and quantum technology.
He said China’s strategic doctrines, too, have gone from a war-zone concept of fighting a limited war under hi-tech conditions to the three-warfare approach entailing public opinion, psychological warfare, and legal warfare and as well as making available an unrestricted warfare with conventional capacities for destruction of an adversary.