New Delhi: India can handle China militarily with the qualitative defence capabilities that the Indian armed forces possess today, but the military action should be the last resort, said a former Corps Commander, who was tasked with defending Arunachal Pradesh from the Asian dragon’s aggression while in military service.
India also needs to reset its current relationship with China in the aftermath of Beijing violating in letter and spirit all the five border peace agreements signed since 1993 and after the clash with Indian Army soldiers at the Galwan Valley on June 15, according a former Indian Ambassador to China.
These were stated in a scintillating discussion on ‘India’s China relations: Does it need a reset‘ under the banner of ‘Express Expressions‘ organised by the New Indian Express media group in which Lieutenant General S. L. Narasimhan, a former 3 Corps Commander and present day member of the National Security Advisory Board, and India’s former Ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale participated.
The discussion was anchored by The New Indian Express editorial director Prabhu Chawla and Defence.Capital editor N. C. Bipindra last evening. Prabhu Chawla and Bipindra were curious to know the direction that the present one-and-a-half month conflict between the Indian and the Chinese armies on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh would take in the coming days and how could the bilateral relationship flourish in an atmosphere of mistrust.
In his reply to a question that is rankling the minds of the Indian citizens on the nation’s military capabilities to handle China, Lt. Gen. Narasimhan was categorical. “I am quite confident that we (India) will be able to handle China militarily if push comes to shove. But, let me caution, military option should be the least and the last resort.”
However, the former Commandant of the Army War College at Mhow had a poor view of China’s capability to fight a war from the Tibetan plateau due to geographical weaknesses and vulnerabilities it could pose to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or PLA Air Force.
The plateau is about 4,000 metre in altitude and hence, the Chinese military aircraft’s payload carrying capacity is pretty low. Even if they have 500 aircraft, it will have the capacity to carry payload of just about 100 aircraft. Whereas, Indian jets can take off from the air bases in Jammu and Kashmir or Punjab for an air raid on Chinese positions in the plateau or along the LAC.
However, the one area of defence that India has a disadvantage is the military budget. China’s $168 billion worth of defence expenditure is three times that of India’s $55 billion this year, Narasimhan noted.
Bambawale argued in favour of economic actions against China, which he described as the people’s diplomacy, amidst calls for boycotting Chinese goods in India. He said it is a fact that the people of India are angry with China for its aggressive military behavior and this means, India needs to do a fresh assessment of its relationship with China.
Bambawale too did not favour a military action, but sought non-military options that could be used to contain China. “For a minimum tactical gain along the LAC, China strategically lost India. China’s aggressive behavior has effectively pushed India into the hands of other democracies such as the United States, Japan, Australia, South Korea and even Indonesia.”
The former ambassador, who has also served in Pakistan, said the June 15 violence unleashed by the PLA soldiers was a new low in the India-China relationship after the 1962 war. “The border peace agreements from 1993 have held till 2020, when the violence broke out at Galwan. 2020 is now a new inflection point in the relationship. India needs to reassess, re-calibrate and reset its China policy.”
Both Lt Gen. Narasimhan and Amb. Bambawale agreed that India should not just trust China, but carefully verify its promises.
Bambawale quoted former American president Ronald Reagan to say, “trust, but verify.” India must verify all that China says, especially bilateral agreements and memorandum of understanding, he said.
Narasimhan went a step ahead and quoted China’s first premier Zhou Enlai: “Don’t look at what we say, but look at what we do.”