India's missile test raises the stakes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 April, 2012, 12:00am


India's successful test of a missile capable of nuclear strikes on Beijing and Shanghai and deep into Europe has hardly raised pulses anywhere - except in India, which increasingly views its neighbour China as a greater long-range strategic threat than its arch-rival Pakistan. This contrasts with the condemnation from the west of North Korea over a failed satellite launch regarded as a disguised missile test, which violated United Nations Security Council bans.

This is because India is not seen as a global threat, even though it has not signed the non-proliferation treaty for nuclear powers. Its claim of de facto legitimacy for its nuclear arsenal was boosted by a nuclear co-operation deal with the United States four years ago.

Noting India's disregard for international treaties, China's Global Times newspaper, under Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, warned India ahead of the launch not to overestimate its strength. But with its far larger and more technologically advanced military arsenal, China does not see India as a threat.

Beijing's relationship with the emerging economic superpower next door has taken a back seat to its preoccupation with the United States. Decades of talks have yielded no progress on disputes along their 4,000-kilometre border. As a result, despite increasing economic ties, relations remain fraught with suspicion and distrust arising from historical differences and rivalry.

India insists the missile - dubbed the 'China killer' in some of the country's more colourful media - is only for deterrent purposes. But, amid a powder keg of security concerns and competition for energy resources as China's rise transforms the political landscape, it poses a potential threat to regional stability and harmony.

Worse, yesterday's launch may prompt India's defence hawks to push for development of an intercontinental ballistic missile and membership of the exclusive ICBM club of China, the US, Britain, France and Russia. In that event it would be much harder to make a convincing case for strategic defensive objectives.