A 'political missile,' say Chinese media

New Delhi, 18/04/2012: Agni - V India's longest range ballastic missile with a range of over 5000 kms being uploaded on to the road mobile launcher, ITs likely to be lauched later this evening. Photo: V.V.Krishnan.   | Photo Credit: V_V_Krishnan

The Chinese government has said India and China should “cherish” and push forward cooperation, downplaying the impact of Thursday’s launch of Agni-V, which the official media here hit out at as a “political missile”.

The Foreign Ministry said both countries “are not rivals but cooperative partners”, striking a different note from a series of commentaries published in recent days in the official media, describing the launch of India's first intercontinental ballistic missile, which has the capability of reaching any part of China, as a strong political message from New Delhi.

“We should cherish the hard-earned momentum of cooperation,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said. “The two countries have a sound relationship. During the fourth BRICS meeting [in New Delhi last month], the leadership of the two countries agreed on a consensus to further strengthen cooperation.”

Thursday's launch was described variously in commentaries in several State-run newspapers in recent days as "a political missile" aimed at China and a "reminder" to Beijing to be ready to confront "more complicated security challenges".

Several newspapers close to the Communist Party, including the official People's Daily, The Global Times and the Guangzhou Daily, all published articles that struck a similar note. Analysts said the articles reflected a growing sense of distrust and mutual suspicion on account of a continuing military build-up on both sides of the border, despite commitments from both countries to address differences peacefully.

The Global Times, known for its strong nationalist views, in an editorial, warned India not to “overestimate its strength,” saying it would be “unwise for China and India to seek a balance of power by developing missiles” and both countries needed to be “wary of external intervention.”

“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,” the paper said.

“India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.”

“Missile poses threat to China, Pakistan”

India's Agni-V missile is “an intended design” that posed a threat to China and Pakistan, said the Guangzhou Daily. Ye Hailin, a prominent South Asia scholar at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said the missile “has nothing to do with Pakistan, and is mainly targeting China.” Speaking in an interview with the China Business Daily he did, however, downplay the threat saying that China's own ICBM, the Dongfang DF-31, was “more stable and reliable.”

The People's Daily, in one commentary, warned that recent progress in relations marked by growing cooperation on multilateral fora such as the BRICS grouping could be “easily disrupted” as “China and India have remained suspicious of each other.”

It pointed to the development of Agni-V, “which will bring the whole of China under its strike envelope” as a “constant reminder” that recent “charm diplomacy,” such as President Hu Jintao's visit to New Delhi, was “probably not enough to ease and finally eliminate all suspicions.”

The paper said India “should cooperate with neighbouring countries instead of being hostile to them and should reduce its “persecution mania” to play a role on the world stage in the future.”

The commentaries were a reflection that “some people take this missile test as being aimed at China,” Ma Jiali, executive deputy director of the Centre for Strategic Studies of the China Reform Forum, told The Hindu. “Our hope is that this is not directly aimed” at China, he added.

Mr. Ma, an experienced India hand who is on the more moderate end of the spectrum of Chinese strategic opinion on India, said it was important for both countries to address distrust by “increasing military contact at the highest level, have more mutual visits and hold more joint exercises.”

More hawkish views called for a stronger military response from China. One popular unofficial portal on strategic affairs that is known for its nationalistic views claimed that the “shadow of western countries” and India's “accumulated anger” towards China were behind the test, which was, along with recent differences over the South China Sea, an indicator of India “looking to challenge” China.

It welcomed recent moves by the People's Liberation Army to boost military preparedness by holding two major drills in Tibet near the border with India — an operation in October comprising Air Force and artillery units and a recent live-fire drill by the PLA Air Force. The commentary urged Beijing to “not be careless and naive and think that India is militarily weak.”

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