By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK (IDN) – The successful launch of the nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Agni-5 on January 18 has hardly been noticed in Asia. The western media however have given it coverage focusing on India's ability now to strike major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai.
This partly adulatory coverage is in sharp contrast to hysteria in the western media in particular when North Korea tested a similar missile on November 28, 2017. While North Korea’s tests are projected as threats to global denuclearization efforts, India's are not. [P 32] BAHASA | JAPANESE TEXT VERSON PDF | MALAY | THAI
As HuffPost’s Eric Margolis noted, "Delhi has masked development of an ICBM behind its space launch program" and when North Korea attempts to put a satellite into orbit, the US has "tartly noted" that the booster that can place a satellite in orbit can just as well deliver a nuclear warhead.
"For now, India is a close US ally, and the recipient of US and Israeli help in building its nuclear arsenal. Washington has closed its eyes to India's refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has tacitly blessed Delhi’s extensive nuclear program as a regional counterbalance to China," writes Margolis.
This is an issue China is quick to dismiss. After the launch vehicle was successfully tested on December 26, 2016, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying took issue with media reports in India and outside focusing on the missile's ability to hit Chinese cities with nuclear warheads.
Pointing out that the UN Security Council has explicit regulation on whether India can develop ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons, she was reported by Hindustan Times as saying: "China and India have reached an important consensus that the two countries are not rivals for competition but partners for cooperation as two significant developing countries and emerging economies."
Hua added: "We also hope that relevant media can report in an objective and sensible manner and do more things to contribute to the mutual trust between China and India and regional peace and stability."
The January 18 successful firing of Agni-5 missile, comes a day after India's joint sea drills with Japan in the Indian Ocean. Recently, India, Japan, the U.S. and Australia announced the formation of a defense alliance that hopes to enhance cooperation among their militaries as a way of restraining China.
A recent editorial in China's Global Times called upon the Indian media to refrain from promoting harsh comments by the Indian military on the China threat. "Since the beginning of 2018, the Indian army has made harsh comments on China from time to time. Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat said last week that India needs to shift focus to the border with China," noted the editorial on January 16. "The Indian media has been magnifying everything obtained from the military, applauding hawkish army remarks and fabricating scenes of China infringing upon and provoking India."
"Coordinated interactions between the Indian army and media have fed many Indians' negative impressions of China," said the Global Times pointing out that this contradicts the view of the Indian External Affairs Ministry which has said that the status-quo prevails on the border following the Doklam standoff in 2017 on the Indian-China-Bhutan border.
The editorial made a very blunt assessment: "In learning about China, Indian society has been misled by the military's selfish desire to enlarge its budget and gain bigger clout in the country's foreign relations, and its media's market orientation toward eye-catching reports. As a result, a hardline approach to China is political correctness in India and the country is pushed to side with the US, Japan and Australia."
While, according to Chinese media reports, Chinese nuclear experts have expressed scepticism about the Agni-5 missile's capability to hit Chinese cities with a nuclear warhead, they have pointed out the challenge posed to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty by this test.
The growing Indian nuclear capability and its military alliances in the region could make it a fighting force in the coming years, that could disrupt China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) argued Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, in an interview with Global Times.
He said that since the Indian Ocean is a "must enter" region for the BRI, as well as a part of the national strategy of building China into a maritime power, China should also enhance its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean.
Proven ICBM capability currently exists only with the five major powers – the US, Russia, France, the UK and China – all permanent members of the UN Security Council. Thus, Margolis reflects on another reason for India's latest tests: "The most likely reason India would want an ICBM is prestige and a seat on the UN Security Council."
While the West may like to see Asia as a growing hotbed of nuclearization and military confrontations, the lack of coverage given to India’s Agni-5 test in Asia reflects the view that economic cooperation is preferable to nuclear grandstanding.
With the Winter Olympics deterrence diplomacy between North and South Korea there is a sense of relief that this could lead to the reduction of tension in the region – something most people in Asia tend to believe is perpetuated by the US and particularly President Donald Trump.
An opinion piece by Ravi Vellore, Associate Editor of Singapore's Strait Times reflects this mood: "[North Korean leader] Mr Kim [Jong-un] made his move after seeing through the essentials of a full-scale nuclear weapons programme calculated to build himself a fearsome deterrent."
He finds it "hard to decide whether one should be indignant about Mr Kim's audacity or admire his tenacity," and adds: "His peace overture came with his trademark bravado and he made it clear that it was not targeted at Seoul while he still considered the US an enemy, thus drawing a subtle but important distinction for his South Korean brethren to mull over."
Vellore believes: "It is time we acknowledged that far from being a reckless madman, Mr Kim is a shrewd operator with a keen sense of timing, and a rational mind that sizes up situations expertly. This places him in a different league from his opponent with the larger nuclear button."
He adds: "Mr Trump's instincts to tear up the nuclear agreement reached with Iran would have given pause to any other nation planning to hold similar denuclearisation talks with the US. Mr Kim probably reads his briefing papers carefully. And he may have reason to wonder what's the point if the most solemn assurances are not to be respected."
Observers find it remarkable that Singapore, a traditional ally of the US has reservations about Trump’s nuclear policies. In fact, Vellore points out that a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula cannot come without a concord between the US and China, and perhaps Russia as well. But neither Beijing nor Moscow was invited to talks hosted by Canada, which concluded on January 16. These included only those western allies who fought in the Korean War over 50 years ago.
"Indeed, some believe it is the hangover from the Cold War that really stands in the way of a solution," Vellore notes. "While the US insists it has withdrawn nuclear weapons from the peninsula, Beijing seems to believe that Washington is not sincere about finding a solution to the issue through talks because that would deprive it of an excuse to park powerful and potent weapons in China's periphery."
Furthermore he notes that in his New Year address, Kim heaped fulsome praise on the Pyeongchang Games, hailing it as a major event for all Koreans. "Since we are compatriots of the same blood as South Koreans, it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them," the North Korean leader said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 January 2018]
Photo: India's longest range nuclear capable missile Agni-5 was successfully test fired from the Kalam Island off Odisha coast on January 18 by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Source: NDTV
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