Says border row does not even figure among China’s top five military threats

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Major General Luo Yuan, one of China’s most recognised military strategists, has said China does not want to see “unexpected” incidents along the disputed border with India and believes that the situation along the boundary could be effectively managed with the right mechanisms in place.

Major General Luo told The Hindu that he did not even see the boundary dispute with India as figuring among China’s top five current military threats or challenges. He identified these threats as the East China Sea, where China is currently engaged in a dispute with Japan; the South China Sea, whose waters and islands are disputed by several countries; and the newly emerging financial, cyberspace and “outer space” threats.

The senior PLA officer is widely known in China as a strategist with hawkish views and a well-connected political background that has allowed him to often break from the official script in voicing his opinions. His father, Luo Qingchang, once headed China’s intelligence agencies and also served as a top official in the State Council, or Cabinet, who advised the former Premier, Zhou Enlai. The younger Luo heads a Centre for World Military Affairs at the PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences. His commentaries often appear in the Communist Party-run outlets such as the People’s Daily and Global Times.

While his views often diverge from, and are significantly more hard-line than, the official position, that Major General Luo has been allowed to express them unhindered is seen by many diplomats here as underscoring his strong political connections as well as the support he enjoys among sections of the party and the military.

For a famed PLA hawk, Major General Luo expressed a surprisingly upbeat view on relations with India. Despite the recent strains after the April 15 Chinese incursion in Depsang that sparked a three-week stand-off, he said he was of the view that relations were “smooth and stable” following Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to New Delhi in May.

“Of course, we are not denying there are some conflicts that exist between us, especially on the border issue,” he said. “But if we both have the will to be peaceful, and to build [an effective] consultation mechanism, we can ensure that the border issue can be managed.”

“We should both manage the border together,” he said, “and neither side should cause trouble. We do not want to see any unexpected incident.”

His comments came a day before India and China hold the 16th round of talks on the boundary issue. On Friday, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, who took over as the Special Representative on the boundary question earlier this year, will meet at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in central Beijing.

Mr. Menon will also meet Premier Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his two-day visit, the Foreign Ministry said. His visit is expected to be followed by that of Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is scheduled to be here between July 4 and 7. Mr. Antony will meet PLA officers and may also meet President Xi Jinping.

The fall-out of the Depsang stand-off, which was sparked by Chinese troops pitching a tent in a disputed area, is likely to cast a shadow over both visits. During Mr. Li’s visit to New Delhi in May, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart directed the Special Representatives to ensure that such face-offs did not occur in future and examine the incident more closely.

While there are still unanswered questions about what prompted the PLA to spark the stand-off, officials on both sides say the consultation and coordination mechanism largely worked satisfactorily to defuse the row peacefully. However, that the stand-off took as long as three weeks to be defused pointed to gaps in communication, particularly on the Chinese side, where the PLA and the less influential Foreign Ministry often did not appear to be on the same page on certain instances during the stalemate.

While the PLA’s moves have been seen by some Indian analysts as part of a pattern of Chinese assertiveness on display in other disputes, Major General Luo defended China’s actions in the East and South China Seas. Though he did not comment on Depsang, he blamed Japan for sparking the tensions around the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands by moving to purchase them last year from their private owner.

He pointed out that China had even made elaborate plans — subsequently cancelled — to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Japan last year. Japanese officials, however, say China overreacted to the move, especially since Tokyo was, in a sense, forced to purchase the islands to pre-empt the hard-line Tokyo Governor, Shintaro Ishihara, from doing so.

“On the South China Sea, similar things happened,” Major General Luo said, pointing to a recent incident in which the Philippines shot dead Taiwanese fishermen. “Sometimes, even if a tree likes to stand still, the wind keeps blowing,” he said. “If countries keep provoking China on these issues, we will have to do something to safeguard our national interest. Being prudent does not mean to never wage war. As a soldier, we are under obligation to protect the integrity of our territory.”

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