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India can secure 5G networks with local technology, top security advisor Raghavan says

In an exclusive interview, former diplomat P.S. Raghavan talks about 5G, Huawei, the India-China border dispute & the Modi-Xi summit in Mamallapuram.

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Bengaluru: India should indigenise 5G cellular network technology and put to use lessons learnt from previous generations to secure the 5G ecosystem, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) chairman and former diplomat P.S. Raghavan has said.

“All strands of the industry, academia and the government can come together and that’s the effort the government is making right now in trying to put together a 5G ecosystem, which will depend largely on indigenisation,” Raghavan told ThePrint in an exclusive interview Saturday, adding that a number of Indian telecom and network companies have done excellent work in this area.

Raghavan was speaking on the sidelines of a three-day conclave organised by Synergia Foundation, an independent Bengaluru-based think tank, on a wide range of security-related matters.

How India can play a role in 5G roll-out

Asked how India can play a significant role in the roll out of 5G, Raghavan said the technology, at its critical core, is hardware, but a very large part of the 5G applications is software.

“And India is very good in that,” he said, adding that India is in a position to benefit from 5G and should exploit its roll-out, given that the essential security of the network is taken care of.

He said there are several other ideas — some of which are not in the public domain — on ways to secure the 5G network, without worrying too much about the country the product is bought from.

Synergie Foundation had earlier convened round-table meetings to build an “interdisciplinary thinking” on the 5G network, and recently submitted a comprehensive report to six secretaries in the government for further discussion.

The report had also stressed on building indigenous capabilities to ensure there are no significant fault lines while building the supply chain for 5G, and stated that a single country should not control the entire supply chain for 5G.

Tobby Simon, founder and president of Synergia foundation, said the report also highlighted the key vulnerabilities in the technology, and analysed if the Indian industry was ready for 5G to be used to its full potential.

Also read: Trump’s Huawei ban is worth the pain it will cause

China-US standoff & Huawei

Elaborating further on securing the 5G network, Raghavan said no country today has a settled 5G network, but that China is way ahead of the United States in many aspects of setting up an ecosystem.

He said the 5G network will go far beyond the existing voice and data communication speed. However, the contention is not about the speed but about the further applications of 5G, which are aspirational at the moment.

The technology and business model to roll out 5G is still to be developed, he said.

Responding to questions about Chinese firm Huawei and the controversies surrounding it, Raghavan said it is one of two Chinese companies with the maximum number of standard patents. He said Huawei is at the centre of the US-China battle over 5G, but the standoff can be attributed equally to security issues and commercial competition.

“There are also suspicions that if the US gets a good trade deal from China, it may lift some of the objections to Huawei,” he said, adding that much of Europe has not really banned Huawei.

The boundary question

Asked about the skirmishes and incidents involving troops at the India-China border, Raghavan said that broadly, it has been a border of peace since the signing of agreements between the countries in 1993 and 1996.

“Since then, there has been no actual firing across the border. The issue remains, but the border has been relatively peaceful,” he said.

“Our perception of the Line of Actual Control is different from theirs. So, there are times they send their troops to what is their perception of the LAC, and there are times when we do that as well. When you talk about Chinese incursions into Indian territory, much of it is this.

“Yes, there have been cases of some skirmishes, arguments, pushing and pulling and so on, which have taken place at various points of time, but eventually peace is restored, a flag meeting is held,” he added.

The former diplomat, however, maintained that India should be cautious, and that defence has to be mixed with political and diplomatic strategies.

“You cannot prepare for war. But you can’t assume peace. You have to see what the Chinese are doing across the border,” he said.

“Even when we have declarations of peaceful intent, you need to verify that these declarations are OK. You need to take counter-measures, you need to build your strategic positions on your side of the border. That does not mean preparing for war.”

Raghavan said while the broad diplomatic analysis of most observers is that China is not spiking for a war, military preparations don’t depend on the assessment of intention, but on the observation of facts on the ground.

He said the Army may have to take its decisions where necessary, and that the political leadership can talk to each other at various points of time, as can the Army leadership.

“So you keep an engagement going, which ensures nothing boils up into a conflagration or a potential conflagration,” he said.

Also readThree reasons why it’s not Huawei or the highway for India’s 5G future

India-China relations a ‘broad canvas’

Raghavan said the India-China relationship is complicated, but is a broad canvas.

“Today, everybody talks about China as a potential strategic adversary or at least a strategic rival. At the same time, China is our largest trade partner,” he pointed out.

Raghavan said there has to be an economic interaction with China, which is important to both countries.

He said there are a number of areas where there is an economic interlocking, and a number ways where India resents the way China has been dealing with it — such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or the way China is propping up Pakistan diplomatically and politically in the United Nations or in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

“You have resentment, and at the same time, you talk with China at international forums. You are member of BRICS and SCO. It’s complex,” he said.

Speaking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent informal bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mamallapuram, Raghavan said it is essential to keep high-level dialogues going, and that is the best guarantee of keeping competition and rivalry under some sort of check. He said things like this go a long way in moderating the behaviour of hot-heads on both sides.

“You can’t say he (Modi) converted China into a manner of thinking which is different from what it has been. China has its own national interest and its long-term strategic policies, which can’t be changed in one or 10 meetings. Nor can China change our national interest or our strategic purposes. You put them in a framework of dialogues so that things don’t go beyond limits,” he said.

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