Both India and China have agreed to withdraw troops from disputed areas. How do you view this development? Will India’s purpose be achieved if Chinese troops vacate all the positions it had occupied recently?
The disengagement process, which has been agreed upon immediately after the special representatives spoke on 5 July, is a welcome development. However, we need to treat this with a bit of caution because even on 6 June the disengagement process was agreed upon, but on 15 June we all know what happened. So, we need to go through a process of proper verification of the disengagement process, and ensure that this has been undertaken as per the agreed terms. The disengagement process has come as a result of a concentrated effort by the armed forces, diplomacy, the involvement of higher levels of the government and, then finally, the talks between the national security adviser (NSA) and the Chinese foreign minister. All the incidents were initiated by the Chinese and, therefore, the onus of going back to status quo is with them, but we need to be careful and verify the disengagement process properly. We need to trust the outcomes of the talks and also ensure the disengagement process goes through properly. We should trust, but verify. It will take some effort and time to bridge the trust deficit.
How has the violent clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers altered bilateral ties? Why has China turned aggressive just months after the Chennai meet?
We should not link the informal (summit) talks with this. Informal talks have their own place. It gives an opportunity for the leaders to explain things without the constraints of being in a formal meeting. These dynamics at the border are an entirely different matter. It may not be business as usual in the near future (between India and China), but efforts should be made to have proper relations so that ties come back to normal as quickly as possible. However, one thing is very clear, we will continue building infrastructure as we require. Infrastructure development does not mean it is only for military purposes. It is also for the development of border areas and people living there. There will be no change in our infrastructure development plan.
In the last three years, India had two major standoffs with China. The first one in Doklam and now in eastern Ladakh. What are the key takeaways?
We should not compare Doklam with eastern Ladakh. Doklam was a different issue because it happened in Bhutanese territory, at the tri-junction. That is not the case with eastern Ladakh. This is a bilateral issue. We should not actually mix up these two. The basic thing is we need to be vigilant all along the LAC, and ensure such things do not happen. We have enough agreements with China and standard operating procedures (SoPs). We need to follow them sincerely. We have to ensure that things do not go out of control as it did in Galwan.
How much does a move like the banning of Chinese mobile apps affect China?
There is a law in China, which says that if companies are asked for data, they will have to give it. We should, therefore, look at it more from a security- and data-related problem, rather than as an economic issue.
India is looking at reducing economic dependency on China. How does this work out in the short and medium term, when so much of our imports and even investment for companies come from China?
During Doklam, people started boycotting Chinese goods, but after some time people went back to buying Chinese products. However, this time two things have happened.
First, the US-China trade dispute, which was happening earlier, has actually started a race for companies to move out of China. When covid-19 started, it upset the supply chains, so whatever things were coming from China stopped. This has given impetus to the call for indigenous production. The border incidents in eastern Ladakh have created an emotional feeling to probably disengage from China. Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) has also made a mention of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. We need to start making things indigenously. We need to become a cross competitor and it will take time.
What about calls for a relook at the One China policy? Can India put pressure on China by publicly discarding this policy? Will we rethink our Tibet policy to start with?
When these incidents happen at the border, such proposals get talked about in the media. They talk about One China policy and Tibet, but these are questions that are serious in nature. In the joint statements coming out for the past few years, One China has not been mentioned.
Another issue that keeps coming up in the media is Tibet. A lot of thought needs to be given to all this. A lot of options need to be worked on and then the government will take a call on all this. However, at the moment I don’t think these things work. On the one had we are saying we need to improve relations and bring it back to normal with China. On the other, you want to raise all these issues. They do not go hand-in-hand.
India has said that we can’t choose our neighbours. With trust breaking down, how can we manage this relationship? What is the future trajectory of the ties?
We cannot wish away our neighbours. We have to live with them. We have to maintain good relations with them. However, it does not mean only you have to try for it. They should also try for it, and both sides have to work towards maintaining good relationship. First, this disengagement process should be completed. It should be verified. It should be ensured that all the people who were amassed near the LAC are back. We should also sit with them to work out and ensure that such kind of things do not recur. We should have further discussion on economic issues. It is not that we are not talking to them. We have been talking to them. They are also talking to us. That process should continue. We should also build mutual trust between the armed forces, which was broken because of these incidents. Slowly and steadily we need to bring it back to the level of relationship that existed before all this happened.
In the last few months, Nepal has also started raising border disputes with India probably under the influence of China. How concerned should India be with this development?
We are not sure if it was under the influence of China. The Lipulekh road became operational and they seemed to have some problem with it. This road is not new and it is in our territory. The road was under construction for a number of years and there was no objection so far. It appears that there were some internal issues in Nepal that triggered it.
India is acquiring 12 Sukhoi fighter jets and 21 Mig-29 fighters from Russia. At a time when the country is looking at Rafale aircraft, is the choice of Mig-29 a good option to meet our future security concerns?
We have a lot of equipment from Russia with us and to keep them operational, we need spares and other thing from Russia. We have diversified. We have C-17 aircraft, Chinook helicopters, C-130 aircraft, and sea guardian drones. We have asked for Rafale, but the diversification and the equipment we already have from Russia needs to be balanced.