New Delhi: Stressing that India should shift its focus to its northern borders with China, Army chief General Bipin Rawat on Friday said China is a strong nation but asserted that India is not weak either.
Addressing the customary annual press conference of the Army ahead of Army Day on January 15, General Rawat for the first time talked in detail about the India-China stand-off on the Doklam plateau along the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China for over two months.
"The focus has to shift to the northern borders (with China). We have focused too long on the western side (bordering Pakistan)," the Army chief said.
He said the terrain along the northern borders was in favour of India.
The Army chief said China has emerged as a powerful country, adding that dealing with the Communist giant was the government's job.
"China is emerging as a powerful country, though I will not call it a global power. But certainly, it has emerged as a regional power. It is becoming assertive. We understand China is a powerful country, but we are also not a weak nation," he said.
He, however, hastened to add that India is also seeking support from other countries in the region so that it is not isolated.
General Rawat said infrastructure development in areas along the northern borders needed speeding up, adding that India should also be prepared for future wars in the cyber space.
Asked about increase in incidents of interaction between Indian and Chinese soldiers, the Army chief said it is a result of increase in the number of Indian troops on the borders and increased patrolling.
"Why are we now having greater interaction, some of them good, some of them not so good with the Chinese on the border? It is because we have increased (the number of) our troops," he said.
"Contact started increasing with increase in patrolling by both sides. Therefore, a large number of transgressions are taking place," he said adding that transgressions take place due to different perceptions of the Line of Actual Control between the two countries.
Talking about the Doklam issue, the Army chief said Chinese troops have maintained their presence in the northern part of Doklam, which is Chinese territory.
He said road construction had been on in Doklam since 2000, but the Chinese soldiers had come close to Tosa Nala -- which divides north and south Doklam -- with a large number of manpower and equipment in June last year, just before the India-China standoff started.
"By June 2017, they had come fairly close to our area, to the area called Tosa Nala. They would come build a road and go back...."
"The Bhutanese were patrolling the area and we were watching all this from our side... One fine day, last year, they came with large number of people, large amount of equipment supported by the People's Liberation Army," he said, adding that up to June 2017 it was a very "conspicuous activity".
"We felt they will probably try and claim the whole of Doklam and build a road there... possible reach where the RBA (Royal Bhutan Army) post is... it was also posing a threat to us as it was changing the status quo," he said.
"We felt they could take the road further down south... it is then we were compelled to take action... that is what led to a stalemate."
General Rawat said the Chinese presence in the northern part of Doklam continued but has thinned out and the level of activity has also gone down.
"The Chinese have stayed put in the area. We have come back to our own territory; we are in the watershed; and the Chinese have gone back that much distance but behind that they have maintained themselves."
"As far as the north Doklam area comes, the Chinese are still there but there, too, they are thinning out."
The Army chief said that while a large number of tents and other temporary structures were still in the area, a lot of troops have gone back.
"We have not seen the kind of activities that we had seen in June-July (last year)."
General Rawat said the thinning might be due to the winter season, or because China wanted to de-escalate.
He said during the escalation, a large number of Chinese troops were also seen in other parts of Tibet, with more guns and equipment seen on the Chinese side on the Tibetan plateau.