NEW DELHI: Indian army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Friday said China’s rising footprint in India’s neighbourhood, coupled with that country’s attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo along disputed borders, has led to confrontation and mutual distrust.
His comments, at a seminar on evolving security challenges in the country’s North-east and the way forward, come at a time when disengagement between Indian and Chinese troops is underway in the Pangong Tso area of eastern Ladakh, reports Hindustan Times.Experts said China’s actions were aimed at curtailing India’s leadership role in the region.
“China’s aggressive behaviour along the Line of Actual Control as part of its strategy of military coercion, and increased footprint and investments in India’s neighborhood aim at restricting India strategic space and leadership role,” said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former director general of military operations.
The army chief said the regional security environment was characterised by Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific, Beijing’s hostility towards weaker nations and its relentless drive to create regional dependencies through steps such as the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a state-backed global infrastructure development project covering scores of countries.
Since it was unveiled in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, BRI has expanded to cover a vast swath of territory from South America to the Arctic, and includes plans to build a vast network of highways, ports, power plants, pipelines and other infrastructure. Both India and the United States oppose BRI because it favours Chinese firms and Beijing employs predatory lending practices.
“The resultant Sino-US rivalry has created regional imbalances and instability,” Naravane said. He said a renewed focus on the North-east was in order in the wake of the ongoing security dynamics across India’s borders and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Although endowed with natural resources, the North-east is a laggard in growth and development. Protracted insurgencies, legacy issues further accentuated after partition and inefficient integration with rest of India account for much of what the region faces today,” Naravane said.He said the security situation in the North-east had improved significantly and two army divisions had been pulled out of counter-insurgency and internal security duties, and were now solely focused on their operational role along the northern borders. “This has been a significant achievement. The operational responsibility of these areas has now been taken over by the Assam Rifles,” he said.
The move will help the army focus on the borders and train for conventional operations. Several parliamentary panels have made recommendations in their reports to reduce the army’s exposure to counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism duties because it results in blunting the force’s focus on its main task - defending the country from external aggression.