Beijing responds calmly to India missile test

The Chinese government has underscored its desire for cooperation with India, rather than an arms race.

Manish Swarup/AP
The Agni-V missile launch test team leaders, from left, R.K. Gupta, Avinash Chander, scientific adviser and Director General Defense Research and Development Organization Vijay Kumar Saraswat and V.G. Sekaran, pose after a press conference in New Delhi, India, Friday.

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Chinese media carried both stern and petty responses to India's test launch yesterday of a nuclear-capable missile that could reach Beijing, but official Chinese government responses indicate that China does not want to drive up tensions with India over the launch.

"China and India are both emerging countries, we are not rivals but cooperation partners," said Liu Weimin, China's foreign ministry spokesman, according to CNN. "We believe the two countries should cherish the hard-won momentum of sound bilateral relations, promote bilateral friendship and cooperation, and make active contributions to regional peace and stability."

The Agni-V missile, as it is called, can travel 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), which puts both Beijing and Shanghai in range. China is already capable of reaching India with its own missiles.  

The New York Times portrayed the launch as a development in a regional "arms race," headlining its report, "Signs of an Asian Arms Buildup in India's Missile Test."

But the launch seemed to receive only perfunctory mentions in Pakistani media. India has long had missiles capable of reaching any place in Pakistan, so yesterday's demonstration of Indian capabilities did not change the calculus of India-Pakistan relations.

And while an editorial in China's Global Times, a daily newspaper owned by the ruling Communist Party, cautioned India against "being swept up by missile delusion," it also signaled Beijing's desire for regional cooperation.

India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China, that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. 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.

India should also not overstate the value of its Western allies and the profits it could gain from participating in a containment of China. If it equates long range strategic missiles with deterrence of China, and stirs up further hostility, it could be sorely mistaken. 

China and India should develop as friendly a relationship as possible. Even if this cannot be achieved, the two should at least tolerate each other and learn to coexist.

Their status as newly emerging countries shows the two should cooperate on the international stage. It would be unwise for China and India to seek a balance of power by developing missiles.   

Zhang Zhaozhong, a professor at the People's Liberation Army National Defense University, told the Global Times that the Agni-V could be enhanced to reach 8,000 kilometers.

Another expert speculated that India already has that capability, but chose not to disclose it. According to India, the Agni-V can travel 5,000 kilometers.

"The Agni-V actually has the potential to reach targets 8,000 kilometers away, but the Indian government had deliberately downplayed the missile's capability in order to avoid causing concern to other countries," Du Wenlong, a researcher at the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, told the Global Times.

The Hindustan Times reports that CCTV, a Chinese TV station, emphasized that it would take years for India to "operationalize" the Agni-V because it lacked a high-precision guidance system for the missile or the ability to transport it.

Indeed, several Indian defense analysts told Agence France-Presse that while India joined an elite club with yesterday's launch, it indicates less about India's military progress than many think because the capability to launch one rocket is very different than the capability to use them defensively. 

“We are still way behind China. In terms of missile numbers, range and quality, they are way ahead of us,” said C Raja Mohan, a security analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a policy think tank in Delhi.

Mohan also argued that there was too much focus on “demonstration” launches, which only proved that India’s missile policy was led by the scientific community rather than the government and military bureaucracy.

“We can all wrap ourselves in the flag today, but there’s a dearth of real strategy on how to actually deploy missile technology,” he said.

Rahul Bedi, a global security analyst, told AFP that India's political leadership doesn't understand how to capitalize on the country's scientific breakthroughs and how to use them strategically.

The Agni-V requires several more tests before production can begin and it can be added to India's arsenal, and that is unlikely to happen before 2014, or even 2015.

Li Baodong, China's permanent representative to the UN, took the floor at the United Nations Security Council yesterday to express his country's support for further non-proliferation cooperation, the Hindustan Times reports.

"China believes to maintain international peace and stability, to realize general security in the world, we must uphold a new security concept based on mutual trust, benefit, equality, and coordination...," he said.
"We must consolidate international nuclear non-proliferation mechanisms, fully respect the rights of countries to peaceful use of nuclear energy and avoid double standards," he said.

"At the same time, we must adhere to scientific and rational concepts of nuclear security, strengthen capacity building in this regard and deepen international communication and cooperation and enhance global nuclear security levels and realize the common goal of general nuclear security."

The Associated Press notes that the international community's low-key response to India's missile launch is particularly notable because it came a week after world powers sharply condemned North Korea for a rocket launch of its own. The opposing reactions "show how the world has grown to accept India as a responsible and stable nuclear power," according to AP.

When India first tested a nuclear bomb in 1974, the US put it under sanctions for 25 years. It lifted those sanctions last decade, and in 2008 effectively recognized India as a nuclear power, according to AP. 

“It’s not the spear, but who holds the spear that matters,” said Rahul Bedi, a defense analyst in India. “North Korea is a condemned nation. It’s a pariah country. Its record of breaking nuclear agreements is well known. India has emerged in that sense as a fairly responsible country.” 

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