NEW DELHI: India will not allow China to shift the Line of Actual Control westwards in eastern Ladakh, and though the prospects of a full-scale war are low, border tensions and intrusions escalating into a larger conflict cannot be ruled out, said chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat on Friday.
“Our posturing is unambiguous – status quo has to be restored,” said Gen Rawat, even as India and China held the eight-round of military talks to defuse the almost seven-month-long tense military confrontation in the high-altitude region on Friday.
“In the overall security calculus, a full-scale conflict with China is low on probability. However, border confrontations, transgressions and unprovoked tactical military actions spiralling into a larger conflict cannot be discounted,” said Gen Rawat, speaking at a webinar here.
The country’s top military officer also stressed India will not allow “any shifting” of the LAC by China, which he said is now facing “unanticipated consequences of its misadventure” due to the firm and strong response by the Indian forces in eastern Ladakh.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria also emphasized that India’s “proactive actions and strong posture” were instrumental in dissuading China from making “any further attempts to alter the status quo” in Ladakh. The swift deployment of IAF’s “offensive capabilities” reflected the nation’s resolve to use airpower if the need arises, he added.
There was no official word on the outcome of the corps commander-level talks, led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, which lasted for almost 10 hours at the Chushul border meeting point in eastern Ladakh on Friday.
Sources, however, said India stuck to its stand of “complete de-escalation” at troop face-off sites as well as along the entire frontier in eastern Ladakh, rejecting the “piecemeal and one-sided disengagement steps” being proposed by China.
With no signs of de-escalation yet, over 50,000 soldiers each from the two armies, backed by howitzers, tanks and surface-to-air missile systems, have dug in for the long haul at heights over 15,000-feet.
“With temperatures already dipping to minus 20 degree Celsius in some places, both sides have built shelters and other makeshift infrastructure. Both are also rotating troops,” said an officer.
The Army’s proactive military manoeuver to occupy several tactical heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso-Kailash range area in the Chushul sector on August 29-30, after being caught off-guard by multiple PLA intrusions across the LAC in May, has provided India with some leverage in the diplomatic and military talks currently underway.
“China thought it would get away with presenting India with a fait accompli in the `Finger’ area on the north bank of Pangong Tso. The PLA was not prepared for India’s strong counter-deployment and counter-action, which is forcing it to keep a large number of troops there through the harsh winter,” said an officer.
At the webinar, Gen Rawat said India had no option but to be prepared for a two-front scenario because China and Pakistan are “increasingly acting in collusion”.
The economic slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic has made China “repressive at home” and “aggressive abroad”, as is evident through its posturing in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Taiwan Straits.
“For India, the challenges have manifested with military flare-ups along the LAC. In the coming years, we are likely to witness the aggressive pursuit of hegemonic interests by China,” he said.
“The persisting boundary dispute, China’s support to Pakistan, its increasing influence in South Asia through BRI projects and unbalanced economic relationship is likely to ensure that in the near future, the Sino-India relationship will remain a fundamentally competitive one,” he added.