Pune: In a rare candid assessment by the military leadership of the biggest military and economic challenges being faced by India, Army chief General Manoj Pande said Monday that China was seeking to replace the US as the global net security provider, while believing in the policy of “might is right”.
General Pande also made it clear that the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China needs to return to normal and status quo must be restored before the bilateral relations between the two countries can move forward.
While noting that LAC tensions have the possibility of triggering escalation, he asserted that the Indian Army has made adequate arrangements to deal with any contingency.
Speaking at the Savitribai Phule Pune University Monday, the Army chief said China’s rise as a political, economic, technological and military power has accorded it a new hierarchical position in the world order, which it intends to lead.
He said China’s forays in the South China Sea, rejection of International Tribunal awards on maritime claims, activities in the Taiwan Straits and actions along the LAC bordering on bellicosity, make it increasingly apparent that China’s interpretation of an “international rules-based order” rests on “might is right”.
China’s strides as a political powerhouse are evident in its pursuits of a much larger and “higher seat on the high table” said General Pande, adding that brokering of peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this month and putting forth the Chinese 12-point Peace Plan for ending the Russia-Ukraine conflict, “is reflective of a Chinese urgency to replace US as the global net security provider”.
He noted that China is also attempting to gain clout in international organisations which were traditionally dominated by Western nations. The means though remain through steady acquisitions of key official positions, use of economic leverages and aggressive ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy or ‘bullying tactics’, he claimed.
General Pande said China’s multipronged strategy entails on the one hand support to international institutions and agreements that seem aligned to its goals and norms, yet on issues of divergence —such as human rights — it seeks to undermine such values and create alternative institutions and models.
“In domains, where norms and institutions are still being established, such as internet governance, it works with like-minded regimes to create standards that reflect their interests,” he said.
General Pande said that the era wherein Deng Xiaoping propounded “Hide your strength and bide your time”, is indeed over. In fact, the “work report” presented by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October last year, “is a first-hand account of China’s approach on everything from economic policy to diplomacy, in pursuit of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
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China’s technology push
According to General Pande, China has established a vast lead in high-impact research across the majority of emerging technology domains of defence, space, robotics, energy, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, advanced materials, hypersonic systems, 6G and quantum technology.
For some of these domains, all of the world’s top 10 lead research institutions are based in China and are collectively generating more high-impact research papers than any other country, he said, adding that China today is the world leader in patent applications.
The Army chief said that the Chinese, by virtue of being a totalitarian state, have given shape to an institutionalised civil-military eco-system which aims to harness technology, knowledge, governance and infrastructure for security ends.
With such tech-enhanced capabilities China can, and is accruing national security advantages for itself whilst posing a threat to its competitors and adversaries, he noted.
The Army chief added that China’s economic transition and technological progression has given it the capability to emerge as a major military power.
Quad and changing dynamics
General Pande also spoke about strategic architectures taking shape in the Indo-Pacific.
The evolution of the Quad grouping of countries, comprising of US, Japan, Australia and India, is testimony to increased opportunities, responsibilities as well as challenges for India in these expanded strategic horizons in future, he said.
Noting that China’s views on the Quad are complex, reflecting its broader concerns about the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region., he said China has criticised the Quad as a Cold War relic and accused member countries of pursuing a “security alliance” to undermine China’s interests.
Concurrently, China has also downplayed the significance of the QUAD, describing it as an “artificial” grouping that lacks coherence and is unlikely to have a lasting impact on the region, General Pande said.
He added: “While Quad linkages will get augmented in the years ahead, yet ‘core interests’ of individual nations will reign supreme over providing active military support to us in case of a conflict with our adversary. This necessitates the need for India to be self-reliant in her needs to protect National Interests.”
The Army chief said the most important aspect of India’s operational environment remains its legacy challenges of unsettled and disputed borders.
Pockets of dispute and contested claims to territory continue to exist due to differing perceptions on the alignment of the LAC, he said, adding that 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 China has over the years accrued significant capacities for force mobilisation, application and sustenance of military operations, consequent to development of infrastructure of military significance, be it roads, airfields, helipads and billeting structures.
“The Indian Army’s strategic orientation and long-term capability development have been with a focus on the Northern borders. We have carried out the required re-balancing of forces to effect the desired response metric on the Northern borders. We have adequate reserves and are prepared for any contingency,’ he said.
The Army chief added that preparedness remains of a high order and troops continue to deal with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China in a firm, resolute and measured manner, while ensuring the sanctity of India’s claims.
“We have ramped up our efforts to fructify the operationally critical infrastructure and logistic requirements — especially the forward area roads, helipads and billeting for our troops,” he said.
General Pande also noted that India–China bilateral ties, do stand influenced by the great power rivalry currently playing out between China and the U.S.
The Chinese strategic community and leadership view India’s relations with the U.S. as aimed at balancing China, he added.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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