India’s army chief has said the country is committed to maintaining a free and stable Indo-Pacific as global concern grows over Chinese influence in the region.

General Manoj Pande made the comments at the Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs Conference, hosted by India and the US, which is focused on boosting military diplomacy and collaboration as well as promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Army chiefs and delegations from 30 countries are attending the two-day event, which concludes on Wednesday.

India Pacific Army Conference
Delegates pose for a group photo during the opening ceremony of 13th Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference and 47th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar in New Delhi, India (Altaf Qadri/AP/PA)

Gen Pande said that while countries in the region are working towards a free Indo-Pacific, “we are witnessing manifestations of interstate contestations and competition” — a veiled reference to China, which has stepped up its activities in the region.

Neither Pande nor the US Army chief, Randy George, explicitly mentioned China in their remarks.

When asked about Chinese expansion at a press briefing, Mr George said the region was a critical priority for the US.

“It’s why we are out here and why we exercise more than anywhere else in the Pacific, to build all of this. What this conference proves … is (our) unity and commitment,” the US chief said.

At the opening ceremony held afterwards, Gen Pande said India’s outlook was focused on the peaceful resolution of disputes, avoiding force and adhering to international law.

India US Pacific Army Conference
US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti, centre, and India’s Chief of Defence Staff Lt General Anil Chauhan, left, attend the opening ceremony of the conference (Altaf Qadri/AP/PA)

He added that in addition to challenges in maritime security, the region also faced security and humanitarian concerns on land, including territorial disputes and over “artificially expanded islands to acquire real estate and establish military bases” — another veiled reference to China.

China’s territorial claims in the East China and South China seas over islands have rattled Beijing’s smaller neighbours in Southeast Asia as well as Japan.

Meanwhile the relationship between New Delhi and Beijing has deteriorated since 2020, when Indian and Chinese troops clashed along their undefined border in the Himalayan Ladakh region, leaving 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead.