M K Bhadrakumar |
People’s Daily reported today citing a CCTV program on Sunday that China’s latest inter-continental ballistic missile DF-41 will be deployed in “early 2018”.
The missile has been under development for several years – its first of 7 test flights reportedly took place in 2012. The South China Morning Post had reported that earlier this month, just 2 days before US President Donald Trump arrived in Beijing November 8 on his famous ‘state visit-plus’ to China, the DF-41 was tested in the Gobi desert.
The DF-41 is a solid-fueled, rail-and-road mobile ICBM. The People’s Daily quoted a Chinese military expert that the DF-41 “has an edge with regard to some technologies” of the most advanced ICBMs in the American and Russian inventory – American LGM-30 Minuteman and the Russian RT-2PM2.
All things considered, the deployment of the ICBM – and the timing of the disclosure by the Chinese media regarding the impending deployment (just weeks or months ahead) – cannot be a mere coincidence.
At any rate, the western assessment is that the DF-41 has an operational range of 12-15000 kilometers, which probably makes this the longest range ICBM in the world. It is capable of MIRV delivery (multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle) up to 10. American experts estimate that China would have the capability to target the contiguous United States with as many as 240 nuclear warheads.
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Which is indeed a formidable capability that fundamentally resets the strategic balance between the US and China. Evidently, China is taking the same route that Russia took where the superiority of the US in conventional military power is sought to be countered with the thermonuclear capacity to destroy America.
Furthermore, the US’s ‘mission creep’ in the Far East – the deployment of the ABM system in Japan and South Korea – on the pretext of the North Korean threat has been seen by Beijing as an invidious American project to degrade China’s nuclear deterrence capability. In fact, the Russian statements have drawn comparison with similar US deployment of the ABM system to Central Europe on the specious plea of providing protection for its allies from an imaginary Iranian missile threat. China and Russia held simulation exercises jointly this month on countering the US ABM system.
In a clear reference to the unpredictability of the Trump administration, Morgulov said, “I hope that a common sense, pragmatism and an instinct of self-preservation would prevail among our partners to exclude such negative scenario.”
In political terms, quite obviously, China is developing deterrence against the US in any military confrontation. A showdown between the two big powers is highly unlikely but China no doubt prefers to be watchful. It so happens that there is also a stream of hardline opinion in the US, which argues that there is still a window open to the Pentagon to browbeat China but it won’t remain so for long.
Read more: Is China using trade as leverage to control North Korea?
In immediate terms, though, what needs to be factored in is also that China must be feeling unsure about the Trump administration’s policy approach to the North Korea problem firmly remaining on the diplomatic track. Interestingly, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov explicitly warned yesterday of the possibility of an apocalyptic scenario developing over the North Korean situation already – “A scenario of the apocalyptic development of the situation on the Korean Peninsula exists and we cannot turn our blind eye to it.”
In a clear reference to the unpredictability of the Trump administration, Morgulov said, “I hope that a common sense, pragmatism and an instinct of self-preservation would prevail among our partners to exclude such negative scenario.” Morgulov was speaking before an audience in Seoul. Significantly, TASS featured a lengthy account of Morgulov’s speech.
Evidently, China is taking the same route that Russia took where the superiority of the US in conventional military power is sought to be countered with the thermonuclear capacity to destroy America.
China would be sharing assessments with Russia over the tense situation. Of course, if a military conflict erupts over North Korea, China will inevitably get drawn into it. And it is inconceivable that China will countenance a US invasion / occupation of North Korea, which could put it to extreme vulnerability to American pressure.
Read more: China’s ‘great game’ in its near-abroad
All things considered, the deployment of the ICBM – and the timing of the disclosure by the Chinese media regarding the impending deployment (just weeks or months ahead) – cannot be a mere coincidence. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the global strategic balance is having a historic makeover.
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.