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Agni – V and China: Need for restraint and nuclear dialogue

India’s successful launch of intermediate range Agni V has created quite consternation amongst the military and strategic circles in China, even though the government spokesperson tried to downplay the launch by pronouncing that “Both India and China are very important developing and emerging economies, the two are not competitors but partners. Both sides should cherish the hard-earned congeniality in our bilateral relations, make common efforts to adhere to the Sino-Indian friendship, deepen strategic cooperation and promote common development, and contribute to safeguarding peace and stability in the region and the world.”

However, the nationalistic Global Times, said in an article entitled “India being swept up by missile delusion” on April 19th that “Indian public opinion has long seen China as its reference point for military development.” In an open warning it said, “India should not overestimate its strength,” for, “even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable.” The article also called for exercising restraint, and peaceful coexistence between the two countries.

Another article on PLA website reacting to Agni V test maintained that the there was an exuberance of confidence, excitement, and ostentatious capability in the Indian media after Thursday’s missile test.

However, the article said that there were still three defects, namely:

1) accuracy, for India lacks the related technology. The long-range missile guidance system is sensitive military secrets, and Russia may not be willing to supply most advanced guidance components to India.

2) Poor mobility performance, for India lacks suitable launchers, roads and bridges; presently the missile has been launched from fixed launchers.

3) Deployment would require longer time, therefore, does not pose a real threat to China at this point in time. In a commentary published on PLA website on 20th April, Liang Yungchun, another military analyst termed Agni V “a short stocky fellow’ which cannot be compared to the intercontinental ballistic missile of P5 but confirmed its mobile mobility that could be difficult to detect…

An army blog in the jotted that India has already become “world’s largest military equipment procurer.” In the last five years its military expenditure reached 127 billion dollars. It could have purchased 300 million tons of rice and alleviated billions from poverty. The military outlay for 2012 has reached 40 billion dollars which is four times of its health outlay.

Will this kind of military spending provide India security? It won’t. Relying on military procurement and “a thousand country brand” won’t have any reliable fighting capabilities. As far as armed race with China is concerned, at present, China’s military spending is 1.4 percent of the GDP, a little more than 100 billion dollars; India’s spending is more than 2.1% of its nominal GDP, but accounts to only 40 billion dollars. China is self reliant in national defense. However, China must increase its spending to 2% i.e. over 150 billion dollars and force India to double its spending and drag India to the quagmire of former Soviet Union faced, and let the Agni destroy India itself, as also to completely destroy it’s ambition of becoming the hegemon of Asia and the Indian Ocean!

Some other military blogs asserted that strategically since Agni V had entire China in range, the possibility of a large scale armed conflict between China and India is ruled out. From tactical point of view, in case China considers recovering south Tibet (Arunachal), China must do it through Tibet, but Tibet’s logistical support is limited, even if Agni V does not attack Beijing and uses conventional warhead to attack PLA concentration areas and supply lines etc in Tibet, this alone would deter the PLA to recover south Tibet by force. If China cannot recover it by force, will India hand it over?

The Chinese media also talked about the ‘double standards’ of the western countries, who were so harsh at the rocket launch by the North Korea, but encouraged India of its missile development. China is apprehensive of India abandoning its strategic autonomy in future and joining hands with the US and other democracies in the region to contain China. They are apprehensive that this may happen, as economic gap between China and India is yawing. The strategic community in China has also taken note of some of the Indian experts airing the views that India’s strategic interests can only be realized by an Asia-Pacific arrangement where the US retains its predominant status. In this regard the nationalistic Global Times and many other micro blogs have warned that “India should also not overstate the value of its Western allies and the profits it could gain from participating in a containment of China. If it equates long range strategic missiles with deterrence of China, and stirs up further hostility, it could be sorely mistaken.”

A post on the ground forces segment of the jotted that the dispute between India and China leading to nuclear confrontation is in fact the US design, the US wishes the destruction of both China and India, which is more beneficial for latter to maintain its hegemony. Indeed, the successful test fire of Agni V has put the entire China in its range, to recover south Tibet by force seems extremely difficult, and in this regard China must have alternate strategies as: One, to punish India in a shortest possible period, i.e. before the Agni V is fully operational; two, force Indian economy to crumble by an arm race, and disintegrate it politically; three, vigorously support Pakistan in India’s containment; four, build PLA’s missile defense capabilities, so as China could shoot down the Indian missiles within Indian borders, and let it have the taste of its own medicine; five, the best possible solution is to support the armed struggle of the CPI (Maoists) besides, China should support the communists and opposition parties and ensure political division through parliamentary debates, let the Indian people demolish the reactionary Indian government, even dismember India and enforce a North-South confrontation within the country. We support the just struggle of the Indian people, and it is legitimate to put up checks and balances, concludes the post.

It is visible that while Indian media has termed the Agni V test as China centric and have been quite jingoistic in its reportage, however, the Chinese media has also kindled the kind of nationalistic media war that both the countries witnessed in 2008-09. The netizens from both the countries once again seems to play a dangerously negative role, which is visible from the various blog posts in China as well as in India. The need of the hour is to exercise restraint and think of a credible security environment in which both the countries feel comfortable and could concentrate more on economic development rather than engaging in a destructive arms race. If China and India are committed to the cause of common security, they need to initiate nuclear dialogue. Even though China does not consider India as a threat, its defense modernization has US in its mind, but the kind of asymmetries it has generated in the Asia has made not only India but many other Asian countries wary of China’s stratagem. Moreover, thousands of nuclear missile in western China have Indian targets in mind not the US. Since there are vast asymmetries in conventional capabilities, India sees the nuclear triad as only option against China. In this context even though the nuclear capabilities of India at sea and ground are far behind China, and even though India is not the signatory of NPT, it becomes important to initiate a dialogue on nuclear program, policies and doctrines so that the intentions from both the sides are reassured.

(The Writer Dr B R Deepak is Associate Prof. of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi

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