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'China is not interested in waging war against India; it has more to lose'

Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (Retd), who is currently director of the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS), explains how Chinese calculations went horribly wrong when it actually ended up pushing India closer to the United States while trying to stop New Delhi from doing so.

Exclusive interview with Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia on a year since Galwan-VPN
New Delhi, First Published Jun 16, 2021, 3:49 PM IST
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The nation stands united today in honouring those who laid down their lives trying to protect India's sovereignty at Galwan Valley in Ladakh a year ago. 

In Part 1 of this exclusive interview, former Director General Military Operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (Retd) told Asianet Newsable that June 16, 2020, incident made China realise that Galwan-type actions were not going to work in their favour and that the Indian Army will be able to respond and retaliate in proportionate terms.

Part 1: 'Colonel Santosh Babu and his men shook up the PLA, foiled many more Galwans'

In the concluding part of the interview, Lieutenant General Bhatia (Retd), who is currently director of the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS), explains how Chinese calculations went horribly wrong when it actually ended up pushing India closer to the United States while trying to stop New Delhi from doing so.

What were the lessons we learnt from the Galwan Valley faceoff? How far were we able to implement those lessons?  

One of the lessons which we learned is to be prepared for any eventuality. And when dealing with the PLA, you cannot trust anyone other than yourself. So there is no trust. Even we have had flag meetings. We have five agreements that form the basis of our peace and tranquillity. But the fact is that you have to trust your own capabilities, leadership, reactions and experience. That is one lesson we learnt in Galwan. I think Galwan was a high point. Since the incident, there has been peace throughout the year. There were transgressions. I think, on a daily basis, there were 450 transgressions every year. That is more than one a day. But if you look at the last one year -- post-Galwan -- we have relative peace. They have not escalated. Wherever they had their forward deployments are, I am sure they will go back because they cannot sustain. It is not sustainable. 

We will have to learn the right lessons in ensuring that we get good logistics. We have to improve the infrastructure, not only for defence and security but also to integrate the people along with the border areas and ensure their well-being -- provide education, health care and communication. We have to ensure digital signatures all along the Line of Actual Control, which is not there right now. We will have to do lots of things. We will have to empower our villagers, actually. We will have to synergise our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. 

How has India's approach in Eastern Ladakh forced China to recalibrate its strategy?

It has not recalibrated but reviewed the strategy. That's because they were very aggressive in May-June last year. Their aggression is now latent. It's not that the disengagement in all places has not taken places. The three steps are disengagement, de-escalation and de-induction. We are still way off. But China's strategy is now one of just holding and one of face-saving and not escalating at all because escalation control is very important for both sides. 

China is not here to wage war with India. But that will only happen if we are prepared. When we are fully prepared, operationally ready and demonstrate our will to face him, China will not engage in war with us. He does not want to pay the cost. He wants to be the world leader in the bipolar world along with the US. Why would China come and wage war and degrade itself and its capabilities against a very strong and resolute India? 

So China will keep using its military coercion, which it has done along the LAC. China has been very proactive in the neighbourhood. In our neighbourhood, they have debt-trap philosophy. Pakistan is, of course, their all-weather friend. He is started interfering in Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh to an extent. China did not like Bangladesh for being part of the Quad. It has taken over Colombo port and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. So that's a way of containing India to where it is. India is the only country that can actually tilt the balance in a bipolar world. In an emerging geopolitical world order, India is a global leader, a regional power. We should understand our rightful place in the community of nations and then balance our interests. We should not get into the balance of power yet. There is a balance of power game between China and the US -- Russia on one side, Japan on another. So we have to balance our interest. China has recalibrated its strategy to contain India in many spheres. We should understand that China can likely resort to non-traditional security challenges. China needs us, but we also need China. So it is mutual. So we have shared interests. We have to have pressure points on China to deter him.

What is the message that China intends to send across by holding military drills near LAC?

China believes in three warfare strategies -- 1) public opinion, 2) Legal warfare, 3) Psychological operations. We cannot intervene in the Chinese minds because they have a closed society. It does not have digital access the way we have. So China can play on our minds by fake news by saying that they have military drills or technological advances; they can do all that. But in the end, we have to understand that the man on the ground is what matters. Technology has a role to play, but it has a limited role to play in parts where it won't work. These are altitudes of 5000 metres. Nothing really works other than the man on the ground. China's psychological operations and its information war and public opinion war is something we need to be aware of. 

Media has an important role to play. The Indian Media is a major asset for the nation and for armed forces. It is essential we convey the right things to our people and send the correct strategic signals to China. So that is where we will have to understand three warfare strategies and tell our people that what China is doing (like military drills) is a part of public warfare and that there is nothing to worry about. We are capable of dealing with it. 

Do you think China's relationship with India relies on New Delhi's external environment? Is whatever that's happening on the borders due to India's proximity to the US?

Definitely, I do not think China wants India to go to the part of the US lobby. But China is again miscalculated. Chinese actions are actually pushing India towards that. It has to understand how the Indians work, how they think and what Indian concepts and philosophies are. We are a proud nation. We have strategic autonomy. We are not only with the US, but we are also part of so many multilateral arrangements. We are on the chair of BRICS for this year. We are also part of RIC (Russia-India-China). We are part of BIMSTEC, G7, G20 and D10 (Democracy of 10 nations). So China has to understand that we have strategic autonomy, which is very dear to us, and it is not that we will get pushed towards the US. But the QUAD is there, and if we can put pressure on China using QUAD, why not? We will do that. Even in the security realm, even in the Indian Ocean, we don't have the capability right now to put full pressure on China. We will get the Chinese with like-minded people. We bind to balance with the nations which have a convergence of interests. 

Is there a possibility of another Galwan-type incident happening along the border? Can an all-out war happen between the two neighbouring countries? Are we prepared?

I don't think Galwan can be or should be repeated. But when troops face others at high altitudes, there is a possibility of a spiral. We have done very well. We have very good leaders on the ground controlling things.  

So I don't visualise Galwan happening because China understands that Galwans are not going to pay dividends. We are prepared for many Galwans. But China has realised that the cost is very higher and it will not pay dividends. Spiral is always a possibility. So we should be prepared for spiral and all contingencies. 

As far as an all-out war is concerned, any war has to political ends and military objectives. As far as India is concerned, war-waging is not an option. It's war prevention that we are looking for. We are a peace-loving nation, and we have priorities. And as far as China is concerned, I do not think it's interested in waging war against India. It has more to lose by waging war against India. If we are fully prepared for war, deterrence and war prevention come through preparations, and you have to be prepared and operationally ready to prevent wars. Armed forces are not meant to fight wars. They are meant to ensure peace and security.

Watch this interview below


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