Home >News >India >'It will take some effort and time for India and China to bridge trust deficit'
A file photo of an Indian Army convoy moving along a highway leading to Ladakh. (Photo: Reuters)
A file photo of an Indian Army convoy moving along a highway leading to Ladakh. (Photo: Reuters)

'It will take some effort and time for India and China to bridge trust deficit'

  • '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. There is a need to verify these processes. We should trust but verify'

NEW DELHI: It will take some time and effort for India and China to repair their trust deficit triggered by the ongoing tensions along the border, said Lieutenant General (Retired) SL Narsimhan, member of National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). In an interview to Mint, he said India needs to be vigilant across Line of Actual Control (LAC) and both sides need to ensure that tensions do not spin out of control as they did on 15 June in Galwan Valley. Edited excerpts.

Both India and China have agreed to withdraw their troops from disputed areas, how do you view this development? Do you think India has achieved its purpose if China vacates all the areas where it recently stationed its troops?

The disengagement process that has been agreed upon immediately after special representatives talked on 5 July is welcome result of that particular talk. But 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 the disengagement process 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 level of government and then finally the talks between National Security Advisor (NSA). All the incidents were initiated by the Chinese, therefore, the onus of going back to status quo is with them and 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. There is a need to verify these processes. We should trust but verify. It will take some effort and time to bridge this trust deficit.

How has the violent clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers altered bilateral ties? Why has China done what it has done –turning 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 of 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 the proper relations so that ties come back to normalcy as quickly as possible. But 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 development of border areas and people living there. There will be no changes in infrastructure development as we have planned it.

In the last three years, India had two major stand-offs with China, the first one in Doklam and now in eastern Ladakh region. What are the key takeaways from these two incidents?

We should not compare Doklam with eastern Ladakh. Doklam was a different issue because it happened in Bhutanese territory and it was the tri-junction that was involved. But 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 across our LAC (Line of Actual Control) and ensure such things do not happen in future. 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 happened in Gulwan.

How far does a move like the banning of Chinese mobile apps affect China?

We should look at it more from security and data related issues rather than economic issue. There is a law in China which says if companies are asked for data, they will have to give it. It is a data and security related issue and we must see it that way and not 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?

Even during Doklam, these things started to boycott Chinese goods but after some time people went back to buying Chinese products. But this time two things have happened, first is the US China trade dispute which was happening earlier, this 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 ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’, we need to start making things indigenously, we need to become cross competitor and it will take time.

What about calls for a relook at the one China policy? Do you think India can 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, Tibet, but these are questions which are serious in nature. In the joint statements coming out for the past few years, One China has not been mentioned. Another issue which keeps coming up in the media is Tibet, these are issue of very serious nature. Lot of thought needs to be given to all this, lot of options need to be very worked and then the government will take a call on all this. But at the moment I don’t think these things work. On one had we are saying we need to improve relations and bring it back to normal with China, on the other hand you want to raise all these issues. They do not go hand-in-hand.

India has said that we can’t choose our neighbours. But with trust breaking down completely, how can we manage this relationship? What is the future trajectory of ties?

We cannot wish away our neighbours, we have to live them. We have to maintain good relations with them, but 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. Firstly, this disengagement process should get completed, it should be verified and ensured that all the people who were amassed near the LAC should go 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 be taken. We should also build mutual trust between armed forces which was broken because of these incidents. Slowly and steadily we need to bring it back to the level of relationship which was existing 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 issue 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 which 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 things from Russia. We have diversified C-17 aircraft, Chinook helicopters, C-130 aircraft, sea guardian drones, we have asked for Rafale, but the diversification and the equipment we already have from Russia needs to be balanced.

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