Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 28 October 2021


 India’s Missile Test Seen as Warning to China After Breakdown in Border Talks

The long-range Agni-5 is country’s only missile capable of reaching Beijing

The Agni-5 missile, on display in New Delhi in 2013, has the power to hit a target up to 3,100 miles away. PHOTO: MANISH SWARUP/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Oct. 28, 2021 10:59 am ET

NEW DELHI—An Indian missile test was seen by security experts as a warning shot to China after military talks between the two countries over a contentious border dispute broke down earlier this month.

India’s Defense Ministry said it successfully launched on Wednesday the Agni-5, the country’s longest-range missile, with the power to hit a target up to 3,100 miles away.

Security experts said the launch of the missile, the only one in India’s arsenal capable of reaching Beijing, was a pointed reminder to China that the South Asian nation has the firepower to fight back if tensions flare up again. The two nuclear-armed neighbors have been in a tense standoff along their 2,000-mile border, with tensions escalating after a bloody Himalayan clash in June 2020 left 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers dead.

“India doesn’t speak out through words, they speak out through their actions, in symbolism in the form of these kinds of tests,” said N.C. Bipindra, an independent New Delhi-based strategic affairs and defense analyst. India has tested the Agni-5 seven times, he added.

These tests are especially important because India is trailing China when it comes to missile capabilities, Mr. Bipindra said. China has intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range of at least 7,500 miles, more than twice the distance of the Agni-5. India’s other missiles can go up to only 1,900 miles or less.

India and China have engaged in military talks in an effort to cool the standoff, but the latest high-level military talks earlier this month ended with no new agreements and both sides pointing fingers over the lack of progress.

The two countries are digging in as winter approaches, with troop deployments in the border region reaching their highest level in decades. Both countries have built infrastructure in the area this year, including insulated cabins and huts to keep troops stationed there through the frigid Himalayan winters.

China’s People’s Liberation Army has gradually increased its troop presence to at least 50,000, up from about 15,000 last year, according to Indian intelligence and military officials. Those moves have been matched by India, which has sent thousands of troops and advanced artillery to the region, officials said.

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