Beneath the serene disposition of the India-China bilateral relationship, a struggle for power continues to brew. This became evident with the launch of India’s latest nuclear capable, intercontinental ballistic missile, Agni-V. The statement that came forth from Beijing expressed the hope that the missile complied with the UN Security Council rules and safeguarded South Asia’s ‘strategic balance’ while making it a point to emphasise that China and India are “not rivals but partners”.
Developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the 17-metre long missile can carry a warhead of 1000kg. The missile, with an operational range of 6000 km can reach all of China and its close ally Pakistan. While the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile was first successfully tested in 2012, its possible induction into India’s armoury now is of great significance.
Having gained membership into the elite Missile Technology Control Regime of merely six months back, India has the rubber stamp of approval for buying high-end missile technology and also enhancing its joint ventures with Russia, which has an advanced capability with respect to ICBMs and possesses missiles with operational ranges of up to 16,000 km. China, on the other hand is yet to become a member of the 34 nation MTCR.
The launch of the surface-to-surface ICBM, Agni V bothers China particularly because of Pakistan’s incapability to match the force. Unconfirmed reports suggest that China itself has the DF 31A missile that has the capability of striking targets over 10,000km. Meanwhile, Pakistan has about 130-140 nuclear-capable missiles developed with technical assistance from China and North Korea.
Commenting on the successful test firing of the Agni V, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “On your question on India test firing the Agni-5 ballistic missile, we have noted relevant reports. On whether India can develop this ballistic missile that can carry nuclear weapons, I think relevant resolutions of the UNSC have clear rules. On the test firing by India, we have also noted that some media, including Indian media and also some Japanese media, have speculated on whether this act of India is targeted at China.I think, as to India’s intentions, you have to ask the Indian side.”
The spokesperson further added, “As for us, we think that the leaders of China and India have an important consensus which is that China and India are both important developing countries and emerging economies. China and India are not rivals but partners. The Chinese side is willing to work with countries in the region including India to jointly safeguard lasting peace, prosperity and stability of the region.”
In a clear reference to the military imbalance now created between India and Pakistan, Hua said, “We have always believed that safeguarding strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive for the peace and prosperity of countries in the region.” India meanwhile, sees the Chinese concerns for Pakistan as a means of preventing it from becoming a direct competitor to the former. Apart from India and China, the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom are the only countries to own Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles.