India and China officials meet today to discuss bilateral military ties after nuclear missile concerns dog 2012

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell
Posted:  01/14/2013  12:00:00 AM EST
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Tags:   Missile | India | China

In Beijing today defence officials from China and India met for the fifth Annual Defence Dialogue to discuss bilateral military ties and the possibility of conducting joint military exercises later this year.

Prior to the talks China's new leader Xi Jinping sent a latter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: “China will, as it has been doing, pay great importance to developing relations with India and expects to carry out close cooperation with India to create a brighter future of their of their bilateral relations,” Xi wrote in a last week.

State-run Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying: “China-India relations have maintained stable development in the past few years, which has brought about substantial benefits to the two countries and the two peoples.”

Although Xi indicates otherwise, tensions between the two Asian powers have unquestionably been tense during 2012 as each looks to assert its dominance in the region. This has been obvious as China and India build-up their ability to project power at sea – China with the unveiling of its first aircraft carrierand India with the induction of a nuclear sub, which bought the country back into the nuclear fold. Indeed, India’s development work on its nuclear capabilities was a staple fixture during 2012. Last summer India successfully launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range of 5,000km (3,100 miles). This was significant for at least two pressing reasons: first the Agni-V missile is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and secondits long range brings it within striking distance of China.

Previously only China, Russia, France, the US and UK had long-range nuclear missile capabilities. Although the system will not be operational for a number of years, with 2014 looking the most likely date, the launch represents a significant shift in India’s strategic capabilities as it grows its nuclear arsenal.

"Today's launch represents another milestone in our quest for our security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the time.

According to the missiles’ architects, Agni-V represents “a quantum leap in India's strategic capability.”

Although officials played down the geopolitical implications, there’s little doubt that India’s return to the nuclear elite signals its robust intent to develop a long-term strategy to rebuff any and all hostile threats, and particularly those from China. Although India was sure to play-down the ICBM test launch, at the time China’s Global Times ran an editorial in response where it cautioned India against provoking aggression in the region, stating it had “no chance” in an arms race against the People’s Republic of China.

"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,” said the Global Times. “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.”

Of course this was an accurate statement; for the foreseeable future India is unlikely to be the ringleader of any instability in the region but it is vital that it continues to develop and advance its strategic military strength in the mid-term. Regardless of the Annual Defence Dialogue this week, relations with China and neighbouring Pakistan remain frosty; if India is to secure its borders and maintain its influence in the region, it must invest further in its naval and air power capabilities.

But India certainly isn’t resting on its laurels. DRDO scientists are also working on a longer range missile, the Agni-VI. In early stages of development, the ICBM could have double the range of the recently launched Agni-V. In addition, India is also developing its Nirbhay system, a cruise missile similar to a Tomahawk.

Andrew Elwell Contributor:   Andrew Elwell

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