Agni-V and China’s Reaction

IITM CSC Article #24
26 April 2012
Agni-V and China’s Reaction
On 19th April 2012, India joined the elite club of countries possessing Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capabilities, by testing Agni-V with a range of 5,000 km. India has been developing and testing different and improved variants of Agni missiles since the 80’s (the latest following previous testing of Agni-IV with a range of 2,500-3,000 km). The Agni-V test has received mixed reaction and concerns from the international community. Questions that arose include: Can Agni-V be considered a “real” ICBM, due to it having a range less than 5,500 km? How will it affect India-China relations, now that the missile can reach Chinese territory? Will this development lead to an arms race in Asia? While most of the international community lauded India’s successful test and “solid non-proliferation record”, domestic and international media has focused (and continues to focus) on China’s reaction.
Other countries possessing ICBM capability include the five permanent members of the UNSC and Israel. US, Britain and France support India’s peaceful rise as a nuclear-capable state and view India as a counter-weight to China. Whether it was due to this “support” from the developed countries or the fact that the launch came just days after North Korea’s attempt to launch a satellite, China’s response to the test launch was swift and sharp, but soon turned diplomatic.
China’s initial reaction was one of apprehensive concern over the test, stating, “India should not over estimate its strength” and “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.” Nevertheless, Agni-V, with capability to carry 1,000 kilograms of nuclear warhead, can reach any part of China from any base in India and is therefore still of credible concern to China. While India celebrated its success, concerns have been raised in China over what is being referred to as a “China-centered” capability and how to deal with the situation. On one end of the spectrum, there were calls in China to send a ‘strong’ message to India condemning the test. On the other end, there were calls for increasing military contact, to avoid any mistrust and miscalculations, between the two Asian giants.
It can be argued that New Delhi used this opportunity to act as a responsible emerging “super” power. India has not engaged China in a war of words, but has stated that this test is “not any country specific”. India has also been constantly reminding the global community of its No First Use policy and its ‘minimum credible deterrence’ policy, to argue that the test was ‘peaceful’. Conscious of extreme opinions expressed through the media, causing possible escalation of tension, China subsequently also downplayed the test launch - the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Liu Weimin remarked, “We are not rivals but cooperative partners” - taking the conversation down a more cautious route.
While some continued to argue that India is “challenging” China’s supremacy in Asia, by way of the test, it soon became obvious that the evidence does not match up. China, whose GDP is about 3.5 times the size of India’s, spends 2% of its GDP on military - reported to be the world’s second-largest military budget, after the US. Also, China has the largest military force in the world, along with nuclear capabilities much larger than India’s. Initial trepidation in China over the test subsided.It is in India and China’s best interest to enter into a cooperative relationship to decrease the potential for conflict in the future. A lesson can be learnt from India’s experience with Pakistan, where they signed an agreement, in May 2005, whereby the two countries have agreed to forewarn each other regarding flight-testing of ballistic missiles. While India’s economy grows and military technology advances, it is vital for New Delhi to engage Beijing on all fronts – military, political and trade, in order to encourage mutual trust and avoid any potential for miscalculations (due to miscommunication) that could endanger the larger relationship between both rising powers.
Project Associate, China Studies Centre, IIT Madras
Friday, October 16, 2015 - 15:00
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