Agni-V missile being test fired from Kalam Island off Odisha coast

by Sujan Dutta

NEW DELHI: Chiefs of the four navies that make up the ‘Quad’ — quadrilateral grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the US – came together at the Raisina Dialogue 2018 on Thursday, a day when India carried out the fifth test of its China-specific 5,000-km range Agni 5 missile.

The ‘Quad’, is a diplomatic group, but underpinned by suspicion of China’s growing influence in Indian Ocean, particularly in waters of “Indo-Pacific”.

“China is a disruptive, transitional force in the Indo-Pacific,” US Pacific Commander, Admiral Harry Harris, Jr, said here in a session on “Uncharted waters: In search for order in the Indo-Pacific”.

He was sharing the dais with the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, Australian navy chief, Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Japan and think tank wonk, Dino Patti Djalal of the Foreign Policy Community, Indonesia.

Earlier, India’s Defence Ministry said the Agni 5 was flight-tested for its full range from Abdul Kalam Island off Odisha coast.“This successful test of Agni-5 reaffirms the country’s indigenous missile capabilities and further strengthens our credible deterrence,” said a Defence Ministry statement.

The test’s timing, coming on the back of recent frontier face-offs with China near Sikkim and in Arunachal Pradesh, adds sharpness to tensions.

Recently, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper criticized Indian Army chief General Rawat, for his remarks that India was deploying more forces to the northern frontier.At the session, Admiral Lanba said China’s Navy had made big changes to its deployment patterns in waters around India.

“They are developing ports and infrastructure that is not viable. They have a base in Djibouti. They have developed a port in Hambantota (Sri Lanka) though we’ve been told there’ll be no (permanent) presence (of the Chinese navy) there,” he said.

Japan’s Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano was forthright. “China’s military power is becoming powerful and expanding. In the East and South China Seas, China has been ignoring international law. In order to deter Chinese provocations, India, the US, Australia and Japan have to cooperate,” he said.

Japan last year joined India and the US in the trilateral Malabar war games off Chennai coast. Though the US is keen to include Australia in the annual exercises, India and Australia are reticent. But the BJP’s Ram Madhav said on Wednesday that the scope of Malabar exercises would be enlarged and mercantile marine traffic would be included in drills.

Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett said there was a “trust deficit” among the Indo-Pacific countries on framing a rules-based regime in the region. “I still have faith in a regional framework,” he said.

Admiral Harris said “We must be willing to take tough decisions in 2018 against unilateral ways to change use of global commons with rules-based freedom of navigation.”Indonesian’s Djalal, said when in China recently, he came across suspicions that the ‘Quad’ could turn into an ‘Asian NATA’. He said Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia were concerned that China was laying claim to waters in their exclusive economic zones.