Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat warned today that a "larger conflict" with China cannot be ruled out if border confrontations and unprovoked military actions spiraled. General Rawat also said China and Pakistan acting in collusion meant an omnipresent danger of regional instability with potential for escalation.
While the General indicated that a full scale conflict with China is low on probability, he cautioned: "In the overall security calculus, border confrontation, transgressions and unprovoked tactical military actions spiralling into a larger conflict cannot be discounted." These are the most direct remarks made by anyone in the government on China and the possibility of the crisis festering in Ladakh since May spinning out of control.
Referring to China's ambitions as an aggressive pursuit of hegemonic interests, General Rawat said the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) - the de facto border between the two countries - remained tense amid transgressions and belligerent action by the Chinese.
China's People's Liberation Army was facing "unanticipated consequences" for its misadventure in Ladakh because of firm responses by Indian forces, the Chief of Defence Staff said at a webinar organized by the National Defence College. "Our posturing is unambiguous; we will not accept any shift in the Line of Actual Control," he asserted.
The economic slowdown due to the pandemic had made China "repressive at home but aggressive abroad", he said, as was evident with its posturing in the South China Sea, east China Sea and the Taiwan Straits. ''In the coming years, we are likely to witness aggressive pursuit of hegemonic interests by China manifesting through economic exploitation of weaker nations, military modernisation and increased contestation with the West.''
Referring to the China-Pakistan nexus, General Rawat said: ''Constant friction with two of our nuclear-armed neighbours with whom India has fought wars increasingly acting in collusion, poses an omnipresent danger of regional strategic instability with potential for escalation, threatening our territorial integrity and strategic cohesion.''
India and China have held seven rounds of military talks to resolve the standoff in Eastern Ladakh that started in May and saw unprecedented escalation in June when 20 Indian soldiers died for the country in a physical clash with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley.
General Rawat's remarks came as India and China began their eighth round of talks to discuss de-escalation and disengagement by both sides from all points of friction. There has been very little progress so far in these talks.
In August, Chinese soldiers tried to close in on Indian troops who reclaimed key heights at the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso overlooking Chinese posts, and there was firing in the air for the first time in decades.
"The persisting boundary dispute, China's support to Pakistan, its increasing influence in south Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative and an unbalanced economic relationship is likely to ensure that in the near future, the Sino-Indian relationship will remain a fundamental competitive one," General Rawat said.
On Pakistan, he said the "new Indian template to deal with terror" had injected ambiguity and uncertainty in the country, which was continuing its proxy war through cross-border terror. "Unabated proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir unleashed by Pakistan, a vicious anti-India rhetoric on social media and efforts to create disharmony within India have taken India-Pakistan ties to a new low," he said.