In 2020, Gen Naravane's trips to Nepal, West Asia helped bolster military diplomacy, but major challenges remain
Naravane undertook at least four foreign tours which had diplomatic overtones this year — to Myanmar, Nepal, West Asia and South Korea
Towards the latter part of the year 2020, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane broke new ground by undertaking multiple visits to foreign countries.
These visits would help to bolster India's military diplomacy and to take forward its strategic objectives on multiple fronts. They are also expected to help secure India's strategic interests in the context of an increasingly assertive China.
In 2020, General Naravane undertook at least four foreign tours which had diplomatic overtones — a visit to Myanmar along with foreign secretary Harsh Shringla in October, Nepal in November, and West Asia and South Korea in December.
Here is a look at the significance of each of these visits.
General Naravane visited Myanmar on 4 and 5 October, along with foreign secretary Harsh Shringla. The visit took place just days after Shringla had a detailed foreign office consultation with his counterpart in Myanmar. It also took place weeks before parliamentary elections in Myanmar, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a majority.
The meeting assumed significance as Myanmar's dependence on China has been increasing in recent years, and Beijing is also said to be pushing some strategic projects along with the China-Myanmar Economic Project, as noted by News18.
In this context, India and Myanmar discussed "maintenance of security and stability in their border areas and reiterated their mutual commitment not to allow their respective territories to be used for activities inimical to each other," according to an official statement.
Exactly a month after the Myanmar trip, General Naravane visited Nepal from 4 to 6 November. At the time, India was seeking to resettle relations with the Himalayan nation after bilateral ties came under severe strain following a bitter border row.
During the visit, the Indian Army chief was conferred with the honorary rank of 'General of the Nepal Army' by Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari at an event in Kathmandu.
India also confers the honorary rank of 'General of Indian Army' to the Nepal Army Chief.
Naravane also gifted medical equipment to the Nepali army, including X-ray machines, computed radiography systems, ICU ventilators, video endoscopy units and anaesthesia machines.
The ties between the two countries had come under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long strategically crucial road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand on 8 May.
Nepal protested the inauguration of the road claiming that it passed through its territory. Days later, Nepal came out with the new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as its territories.
On 8 December, the Indian Army chief embarked on a visit to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. According to a statement by the Indian Army, the visit was historic as it was the first time that an Indian army chief visited both the countries.
During the visit, General Naravane discussed issues of bilateral defence cooperation with General Fahd Bin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mutir, Commander Royal Saudi Land Forces, the Indian Army’s Additional Directorate General of Public Information had said in a tweet.
He also received a Guard of Honour at headquarters of the Royal Saudi Land Forces.
In the UAE, the army chief discussed bilateral defence cooperation and issues of mutual interest with the UAE’s Commander of the Land Forces Major General Saleh Mohammed Saleh Al Ameri.
General Naravane’s visit comes in the midst of fast-paced developments in the Gulf region including normalisation of Israel’s relations with several Arab countries as well as situation arising out of the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
For India, strengthening ties with Gulf countries is a crucial part of its 'Necklace of Diamonds' strategy meant to counter Chinese influence in its neighbourhood, as noted by Business Line.
General Naravane is presently on a three-day trip to South Korea aimed at deepening strategic ties with the country amid mounting concerns over China's military muscle-flexing in the region.
On Monday, the army chief interacted with Minister of National Defence Suh Wook, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Won In Choul and Minister of Defence Acquisition Planning Administration Gang Eun Ho, officials said.
An article in The Indian Express quoted an army source as saying that India considers South Korea to be a high-quality manufacturer of defence-related equipment in sectors such as aeronautics, shipbuilding, electronics, missile technologies, miniaturisation and software. The source was also reported to have said that South Korea "has the potential to be the principal partner in developing the Indian defence industry base”.
The major areas of concern for South Korea include increasing Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea and security of sea lines of communication, and the country considers India as a stabilising influence in the Indian Ocean region, a military official told PTI.
The South Korean military is considered one of the strongest professional forces globally and it often operates alongside the US troops as well as carry out exercises regularly with American and other regional armed forces.
With inputs from PTI
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