Home Opinion Chinascope China’s JL-3 missile can’t cover the US mainland. But it has implications...

China’s JL-3 missile can’t cover the US mainland. But it has implications for India

China has put longer-range JL-3 missiles on its nuclear submarine. The suggested primary targets would be India, Australia, and the US bases in the Pacific Ocean.

File photo of China's President Xi Jinping | Commons
File photo of China's President Xi Jinping | Commons

Xi Jinping flexes the ‘major country diplomacy’ muscle at the G20 summit. He rebukes Justin Trudeau over ‘leaking’ information. PLA has put long-range JL-3 intercontinental ballistic missiles on six Jin-class submarines, says US Navy — implications for India. PLA Ground Forces showcase multiple rocket launch system PHL-191 in Tibet Military District. Michael Bloomberg apologises for Boris Johnson’s China speech.

Chinascope looks at a week full of global summitry where China was at the centre of intrigue.

China over the week

As President Xi Jinping made his way around the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, world leaders sensed an opportunity to engage with him by welcoming Beijing back into the ambit of international summitry.

But Xi brought his confidence fuelled by the belief that China is a ‘major country’ and the likes of Canada can be treated like a vassal.

Xi’s bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden overshadowed his presence at the G20 but the drama followed Xi everywhere. Both sides went to Bali with low expectations, and they may have managed to return home after shaking hands and making some promises on trade talks.

“Managing and stabilizing China-U.S. relations is an ongoing process to which there’s no end. The Bali meeting will not only provide important, practical guidance for China-U.S. relations at the current stage, but will also have a major and far-reaching impact on the relationship in the next stage and even beyond,” wrote Zhong Sheng in an English op-ed published by People’s Daily.

Xi used the tested divide-and-rule policy for Europe.

“Once again in Bali, China took the canny nation-to-nation approach, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte, while avoiding European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. A meeting with Michel, at least, had been widely expected in diplomatic circles,” writes Stuart Lau of Politico.

But what has now obscured the initial handshake between Biden and Xi was a video of Xi reprimanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.

“Everything we’ve discussed has been leaked to the papers, and that is not appropriate,” Xi told Trudeau in Chinese.

“If there was sincerity on your part, then we shall conduct our discussion with an attitude of mutual respect. Otherwise, the outcome can’t be predicted,” Xi added.

He was pointing out his frustration over Trudeau by telling the media about their discussion over the election interference allegation made by the Canadian side.

The interaction shows how Beijing prefers complete silence on bilateral discussions and instead likes the anodyne diplomatic speech published by the Chinese state media.

Others have pointed out that Xi called Trudeau ‘too naïve’ while walking away from him.

Xi’s mannerism reveals the type of ‘major country diplomacy’ Beijing wants to promote by placing itself at the centre of international order. The hierarchy is built into the new order China is selling the world. Those who still don’t see it are lost in the forest.

Another much-anticipated meeting between Xi and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak didn’t occur.

“I think that China unequivocally poses a systemic threat — well, a systemic challenge — to our values and our interests, and is undoubtedly the biggest state-based threat to our economic security, let me put it that way. That’s how I think about China,” said Sunak while speaking to the reporters travelling with him.

The India-China military tensions rarely feature the nuclear dimension of the relationship, but it is far from a stable balance in the domain of nuclear weapons.

China has put longer-range JL-3 ICBMs on its nuclear submarine, according to the US Navy. Admiral Sam Paparo, the head of the US Pacific Fleet, said PLA Navy’s six Jin-class submarines are now equipped with long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles JL-3.

“We keep close track of those submarines,” said Paparo.

He was asked about the purpose of deploying the missile system. “They were built to threaten the United States,” added Paparo.

But the story is more complicated.

According to missile expert Hans Kristensen, the JL-3 has a range of little over 10,000 km and can deliver multiple warheads. If the missile is fired from the South China Sea, it can’t cover the whole of the US mainland, and only part of the US mainland if fired from Bohai Sea.

“Important to remind: despite its longer range, the JL-3 cannot hit anywhere in the United States (or elsewhere) that cannot already be hit by China’s existing land-based missiles. They have had that capability since the 1980s,” Kristensen wrote.

Therefore, the range suggests that the primary targets of the JL-3 would be India, Australia, and the US bases in the Pacific Ocean. The ‘regional targeting’ hinted at with the deployment of JL-3 is a new trend in Beijing’s security calculus, which was noticed elsewhere last year.

In a similar fashion, during the height of India-China border tensions in 2021, Beijing tested the long-range nuclear-capable missile system DF-31AG, used for regional targeting like JL-3, according to this author’s research. The testing of the nuclear systems may not indicate a hostile conflict signalling but shadows the overall nuclear tensions between the two giants.

What better way to illustrate tensions between India and China than to point out that there was no bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping at the G20 summit. To the rest of the world, India-China hostilities may not appear as stimulating as US-China tensions, but both exist under the shadow of nukes, with few formal platforms to discuss their nuclear relations.

In the coming weeks, I will have more to share about the DF-31AG missile test conducted in 2021 at the peak of India-China border negotiations.

The deployment of JL-3 wasn’t the only development during the past week.

The multiple rocket launch system (MLRS) PHL-191 – previously confirmed to have been deployed in Xinjiang Military District – was seen during a meeting of the PLA in Tibet.

The PLA Ground Forces showcased the 300mm PHL-191 MLRS system during a “maintenance mobilisation and deployment meeting.”

Though the Chinese state media has hinted at the presence of the PHL-191 system in the Tibet Military District, this is the first time we have seen confirmation of its existence in the hinterland of Tibet – away from Eastern Ladakh.

“Inspection and maintenance, to ensure that weapons and equipment have zero failure, zero hidden problems, effectively improve the performance of weapons and equipment war technology, to enhance the combat effectiveness of the troops to lay a solid foundation,” said the text of the post by Tibet Military District on Weibo.

When Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande said the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was “stable but unpredictable,” he was alluding to the continued presence of the PLA and the ongoing deployment and enhancement of weapon systems in Tibet and Xinjiang.


Also read: Xi says ‘national security’ 50 times at Party Congress & China sees rare protest against him


China in world news

A takeaway from the G20 summit would be that the US and China are trying to reopen the channels of communication, which were entirely shut down after a stand-off following Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, Taiwan.

The US and China discussed their broader economic relationship at Thailand’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

In Bangkok, US Vice President Kamala Harris briefly met with Xi, and they called to keep the communication channels between the two open.

Besides Harris, the US trade representative Katharine Tai spoke to her Chinese counterpart, Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao, at the APEC.

A thaw in the trade relations may have started in Bali, as hinted by China Daily. “China will implement a key consensus, reached in talks between leaders of China and the United States…in Bali,” it reported.

Despite the talk of reviving the communication channels, we don’t know if the US and China will stay on the course following the G20 and APEC meetings. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken may travel to China early next year, indicating that the two sides are comfortable with restarting their usual communication channels.

When in Singapore, ensure that you say something about both the US and China – in the same breath. Or else you may be criticised by Singapore’s elite for ‘insulting’ them.

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson found himself in a similar situation. Founder and owner of Bloomberg News, Michael Bloomberg had to apologise after Johnson’s speech criticising China at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. It was considered ‘offensive’ by the audience in Singapore.

Johnson had described China as a “coercive autocracy” at the Forum, which some attendees didn’t appreciate.


Also read: China’s tourism revenue dips and an old article by Xi Jinping shows his mind on art & protest


Must read this week

If China Invaded Taiwan, What Would India Do? – Hal Brands

Why China Will Play It Safe – Christopher Johnson

Xi’s vision for China after the 20th Congress – Steve Tsang

The Beginning of the End for Zero COVID? – The China File Conversation

PodWorld

There is one name that has left an unmissable mark on International Relations scholarship, strategic thinking, and China, and that is Graham Allison. Michael Morell, former deputy director of CIA, spoke to Harvard Kennedy School professor Allison about his interviews on China with former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Chinascope recommends listening to the conversation on Morell’s latest podcast episode.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Ratan Priya)