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International relations

Modi sends strong message to China as tensions continue

Indian forces 'gave a befitting reply,' PM says in Independence Day speech

This image from Doordarshan National TV shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation during its 74th Independence Day in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI -- Amid a tense border standoff with China, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday that the country's armed forces have replied forcefully to those trying to challenge India's sovereignty.

Modi's remarks came in his Independence Day speech from the capital's historic Red Fort, two months after 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops died in clashes along their disputed border in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.

"What our brave soldiers can do, the world has seen in Ladakh," he said.

"Along [the borders], whoever tried to raise an eye toward the country's sovereignty, our armed forces gave them a befitting reply in the language they understand," Modi said, referring to Pakistan and China, both regarded as threats.

"India is effectively dealing with both terrorism and expansionism," he said, without naming Pakistan, which New Delhi accuses of fueling terrorism on Indian soil. He also did not mention China and its expansionist agenda.

Modi: "What our brave soldiers can do, the world has seen."   © Reuters

"Today, neighbors are not only those with which we share our geographical boundaries but also those with which our hearts meet," Modi said, adding that India has developed strong ties with countries in an "extended neighborhood," including those in West Asia.

Modi sported a saffron and white turban along with a matching scarf, which he used as a face mask. The celebration was comparatively low-key due to the ongoing pandemic. All guests were wearing masks and seated about two meters from each other, while school kids did not join the celebration.

In his 90-minute speech, Modi said three COVID-19 vaccines are currently in different stages of trial in India.

"We are ready for [vaccine] production on a large scale ... and a roadmap is also ready to take it to each and every Indian as soon as possible," he said.

As of Saturday, India had confirmed over 2.5 million COVID-19 cases and more than 49,000 deaths.

Modi also touched on other topics, such as national self-reliance, infrastructure, digital health identification for all and other programs to help India's middle-class, farmers and women.

"[Self-reliance] is not a word but a mantra for our countrymen," he said, referring to the goal of making India a manufacturing power that is less dependent on imports. "Let's resolve that 'vocal for local' becomes a life mantra."

On the country's National Digital Health Mission, Modi said: "Today, we are starting a very big campaign in which technology will also play a major role."

The prime minister noted that the mission will inspire "a new revolution" in the health sector, with technology helping to reduce problems in treatments. Every Indian will be given a national health ID, which will contain results of medical tests, descriptions of ailments, doctors' prescriptions, diagnosis and other information, he said.

"From making an appointment with a doctor to depositing fees, all [will be handled] by the National Digital Health Mission."

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