NEW DELHI: India cannot allow its neighbours to drift away from it to counter an assertive China, Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat said today, affirming that time has come for the country to shift focus from western to the northern frontier.
Rawat said countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have to be kept on board as part of a broader strategy to deal with China, and India must make "wholehearted" efforts to continue extending support to them.
Addressing the media on the eve of the Army Day, Rawat acknowledged that China was exerting pressure on India along the border but at the same time asserted that the Indian Army was fully capable of dealing with any security challenge on the northern frontier.
"I think we cannot allow the neighbourhood to be drifted away from us --whether it is Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan. These nations have to be kept on board, and I think we have to put in our wholehearted effort to ensure we continue to support them," he said.
China has been trying to expand its influence in countries in India's neighbourhood including Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, which have traditionally close ties with New Delhi.
"We are seeking support of other nations, group of nations in the region, to see that we are not isolated completely in a situation in Asia against an assertive China. That is the next step that is being taken and therefore you will find that a quadrilateral is formed," said Rawat.
In November last year, India, Japan, Australia and the US had set the ball rolling for forming a quadrilateral coalition in the Indo-Pacific region to pursue their common interests, a move seen as a measure to counter growing Chinese influence.
He said there are other countries that are coming on board to support India in whatever way they can.
"At the military level, we know that if there is a threat from China, we have to be prepared for it," he said.
Rawat also underlined the need for shifting attention from the western border with Pakistan to the northern frontier with China.
"For too long, we have kept our focus on the western front. I think time has come for us to focus on the northern border. Therefore our infrastructure development on the northern border has to be speeded up," he said.
At the militarty level, the Army Chief said, India's engagement with almost all nations of the region are of a high order, and added the Army is concentrating more on the neighbourhood than beyond.
He said, by keeping these nations with it, India would be able to make sure that the assertiveness that China is showing against it is balenced in some way.
"That is the approach we are taking. We know China is a powerful country but let us also not forget that we are not a weak nation. Let's not get so worried. We are dealing with the situation. We are confident we will be able to handle the situation," he said.
Troops of India and China were locked in a 73-day-long standoff in Doklam since June 16 after the Indian side stopped construction of a road in the disputed area by the Chinese Army. Bhutan and China have a dispute over Doklam. The face- off had ended on August 28.
Rawat said China has been keeping its troops in north Doklam.
He said India is dealing with China at different levels including through diplomatic engagement.
He also admitted that China was exerting pressure along several border areas but India made sure the situation did not escalate beyond a point.
"Yes, he (China) is exerting pressure. We are prepared for it, but as I said we are dealing with it at different levels. Our intention always is that whenever he exerts pressure, we should try not escalate it beyond a limit.
"Yes, we will not allow our territory to be invaded or intruded upon. Whenever an intrusion takes place to our territory, we will defend our territory because that is a charter given to us," he said.