Army chief General Rawat has said nothing that should worry China

General Bipin Rawat was speaking at a seminar on the “future contours and trends of warfare”.This is the kind of stuff military people are likely to speak about when they are discussing issues in a seminar where issues are thrown up and scenarios discussed. This is something that the Chinese side probably does not understand because their military leaders usually speak to the public in tightly scripted environments.

 Manoj Joshi, Sino-India, General Rawat, Doklam, Salami-slicing

PM Modi delivering statement during joint media briefing with state counsellor of Myanmar, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi

There was very little in Army chief’s remarks at the inaugural of a seminar that should have occasioned the kind of response it has from China. For one, they were not new. For another, they ranged on a variety of issues relating to warfare, the current threats India confronts, the primacy of the Army in the tri-services situation and so on.

But what seems to have got the goat of the official spokesman Geng Shuang in Beijing is his reference to India having to remain prepared for a two-front war situation relating to Pakistan and China, and on Chinese hybrid war tactics involving information, psychological, media and legal warfare tactics, along with salami-slicing tactics in occupying Indian territory.

But Geng linked this to the recent summit between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi in Xiamen and said that Rawat’s remarks went against the grain of the meeting where the two sides had agreed on a positive agenda and endorsed a view that “differences should not become disputes.” They had also spoken of the need for even more dense military-to-military relations to prevent a recurrence of the Doklam incident. The Chinese spokesman wondered whether the Indian Army chief had spoken without authorisation or spontaneously, and “whether his words represented the position of the Indian government.”

The answer to this is complex. This is the kind of stuff military people are likely to speak about when they are discussing issues in a seminar where issues are thrown up and scenarios discussed.

 

This is something that the Chinese side probably does not understand because their military leaders usually speak to the public in tightly scripted environments.

As for the Army, it has been speaking about a two-front war scenario for some time now. Indeed, it actually flows out of what is called an ‘operational directive’ by the defence minister in 2008 which enjoins the military to be prepared to deal with a “two front threat” from China and Pakistan. This directive led to the Army revising its doctrine to cater for a possible two-front war.

Salami slicing tactics and psy-ops are something that the Indian Army has seen first hand in its dealings with its Chinese counterparts. For example, the Chinese claim line of 1956, reaffirmed by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1959 saw the Chip Chap and Galwan river valleys in the Indian side of the LAC. However, in 1960 China claimed both the areas and subsequently occupied them. The same happened in Pangong Tso where the 1959 line was at Khurnak Fort, but the 1960 line moved westward to Siri Jap.

Even today, the Chinese continue their efforts to salami-slice.

 

The incident in Depsang Plains in 2013 was an instance where the Chinese sought to establish shift the border westward, albeit by a few kilometres. And of course, the latest was in Doklam, though not in territory, but the Chinese did seek to harden their presence in an area which they used to regularly patrol since 2008 or so.

Some blame for this most recent contretemps probably lies with the media. None of the reports of the Army chief’s remarks mention the fact that he was speaking at a seminar on the “future contours and trends of warfare.” In delivering a lecture on the subject, General Rawat naturally spoke about the Army’s doctrinal views on China, its expectations, and on issues like the possibility of war between two nuclear armed neighbours and so on. As for the media, it was invited and it reported the General’s remarks. Whether or not he should speak on such issues is a matter between him and the government, but presumably as of now, he seems to have the authority to speak on professional issues that relate to his job.


This commentary originally appeared in Hindustan Times.

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