Indian Army chief General MM Naravane on Friday blamed China for its attempts to change the status quo along the border, saying it has led to confrontations and mutual distrust, reported The Print.

Addressing a seminar at a think-tank United Services Institute, Naravane said that the security environment in the region is characterised by China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific, its hostility towards weaker countries and its relentless drive to create regional dependencies through programmes such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

“The resultant Sino-US rivalry has created regional imbalances and instability,” he said. “The rising footprints of China in India’s neighbourhood and its attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo along our disputed borders have created an environment of confrontation and mutual distrust.”

Naravane’s comments came a day after Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told the Parliament that India and China will remove deployments along the Pangong lake in Ladakh in a phased and coordinated manner. His statement confirmed a breakthrough in talks between the two countries to ease border tensions.

On Friday, the Army chief said that regional and internal connectivity was acutely linked to security, adding that it is important in unleashing the potential of the North East and balancing the influence of China.

“Failure to deliver on promises has plagued our efforts at improving regional connectivity,” he said. “The [India-backed] Kaladan multi-modal transport project [in Myanmar] and the trilateral highway [India-Myanmar-Thailand] have both seen cost and time overruns.”

Naravane said the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the security dynamics across India’s borders have brought about major changes in the geo-strategic construct of the North East.

“It is in this evolving environment that a review and renewed focus on India’s North East is in order,” the Army chief said. “Although endowed with natural resources, the North East is a laggard in growth and development. Protracted insurgencies, legacy issues further accentuated after partition and inefficient integration with rest of India account for much of what the region faces today.”

The Army chief, however, said that the security situation in the North East has improved significantly. He said that two Army divisions had been pulled out of counter-insurgency and internal security duties and were now solely focused on their operational role along the northern borders. “This has been a significant achievement,” he said. “The operational responsibility of these areas has now been taken over by the Assam Rifles.”

The Army chief had on Thursday said even as new challenges were appearing, India’s legacy problems, including the matter of unsettled borders, have not gone away, reported The Indian Express.

“Ongoing developments along our northern borders should cause us to ponder over yet another reality, i.e. the nature of our unsettled borders and consequent challenges with regard to the preservation of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

India-China tensions

Tensions between the two countries flared up in June after deadly clashes between soldiers in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed. China is believed to also have suffered casualties as well, but has not given any details.

The standoff has persisted with both sides bolstering forces along the border. Both India and China have accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time there in 45 years.

Several rounds of diplomatic and military level of talks have been held over the past few months to disengage troops. The ninth round of Corps Commander-level talks took place on January 24.