Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said that the military might of countries may be up for debate, but asserted that India was “far ahead” of China in terms of soft power. The defence minister’s remarks came as New Delhi and Beijing deliberate on the tension at the Line of Actual Control.

“Whenever there is a situation at the LAC [Line of Actual Control], the most obvious outcome is a comparison between India and China’s military strength,” Singh said. “There can be a serious debate on who owns more military might but when it comes to soft power there is no scope of ambiguity. India is far ahead of China when it comes to leading the world with ideas.” The defence minister was addressing the valedictory session of the annual conclave of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry.

Singh hailed India’s armed forces for their achievements in Ladakh region of the Line of Actual Control. “In these testing times our forces have shown exemplary courage and remarkable fortitude,” Singh said. “They fought the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] with utmost bravery and forced them to go back. The coming generations of this nation will be proud of what our forces have managed to achieve this year.”

He also criticised China and Pakistan, calling them out for uninstigated aggression at the country’s borders. “Unprovoked aggression on our Himalayan frontiers is a reminder of how world is changing, how existing agreements are being challenged, how power is being asserted not just in Himalayas but across Indo-Pacific,” Singh said.

Singling out Pakistan for terrorism across the border, the defence minister said that India has faced cross-border terrorism but fought it alone. “...[we] have fought the scourge alone even when there was no one to support us but later, they understood we were right about Pakistan being the fountainhead of terrorism,” he said.

Tensions with China along the Line of Actual Control started with initial scuffles that led to a pitched battle – without firearms – in June that saw 20 Indian soldiers killed. Beijing, however, refused to release casualty numbers on its side. Both India and China have accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time in 45 years.

India and China have failed to resolve the standoff even after eight rounds of Corps Commander-level talks, and the two countries have made preparations to maintain thousands of troops and equipment in sub-zero conditions.

Last week, Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that Beijing has offered “five differing explanations” for violating agreements on maintaining peace along the border. Meanwhile, on December 8, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the country was working with India for “further de-escalation” in Ladakh.