How China can aggravate India-Pakistan tensions over Agni-V tests

The idea of mobile launchers stationed anywhere in India capable of striking any major city in China can alter Asia’s strategic environment

 |  5-minute read |   02-02-2017
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The Agni-V tests have demonstrated India’s capabilities to enter the elite club of ICBM (Intercontinental ballistic missiles) possessing nations. Last December, its fourth successful test to validate the canister launch system has added more teeth to India’s deterrence and second-strike capabilities.

The idea of mobile launchers stationed anywhere in India capable of striking any major city in China has all the reasons to alter Asia’s strategic environment, especially the equation between New Delhi and Beijing. Naturally, the development hasn’t gone down well with Beijing and the commonality in unpleasant reactions across China’s strategic, political and media circles evince that a more aggressive posturing from China is on the anvil.

From terming the test as a violation of UN norms to advising India “to cool down its missile fever”, the reactions from Beijing are sufficient to put New Delhi on a high alert. Moreover, an editorial in the state-run Global Times clearly stated that China shall not restrain itself in expanding Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities in response, thereby pointing towards an aggressive stance vis-à-vis India.

Although the Sino-Indian border has remained relatively peaceful for the past three decades (barring the incidents of PLA’s aggressive border patrols) and both the nations have set up institutionalised mechanisms to enhance the case for peaceful border, China’s cooperation with Pakistan in the domains detrimental to India’s stability is something that seems to have deteriorated Sino-Indian ties.

cpecbdreuters_020217114413.jpg With the inception of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the IOR is heading towards witnessing more muscle flexing.

This article analyses three key irritants in the India-Pak relationship which Beijing may attempt to aggravate further in response to India’s recent missile tests:

Masood Azhar Issue

As expected, China recently exercised its veto to block India’s bid to get Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist under the UNSC’s 1267 Sanctions Committee. New Delhi does believe that Beijing would eventually cooperate even if it takes intense negotiations to convince it regarding the threats from non-state actors operating from Pakistan. But, the aggressive militarisation along the LAC by both the sides, and the China-centric debate surrounding Agni-V have definitely unnerved Beijing. Keeping India entangled with its western neighbor in a sub-conventional warfare shall turn out to be a good diverting tactic in this scenario.

China’s stance has generated a strong reaction from New Delhi, which calls these moves as double standards as well as threats directly aimed at undermining India’s sovereignty. By not cooperating with New Delhi regarding this highly sensitive issue,Beijing seems to have conveniently delegated its India-specific antagonisms to Pakistan.

Indian Ocean Region

With the inception of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the IOR is heading towards witnessing more muscle flexing. Pakistan has recently set up a maritime force to safeguard the Gwadar Port and CPEC-linked sea lanes; hence, the region is set to witness greater naval activity. Besides assisting in strengthening the Pakistani naval program, the Chinese maritime footprint is expected to be extended into the Arabian Sea as well.

Recently, an NDTV report stated that a Chinese submarine which had secretly docked at Karachi last year might have spied on the movements of the Indian warships. Given that nuclear submarines can remain underwater for extended durations, Pakistani waters may witness higher instances of Chinese submarines paying visits, thus giving the Indian Navy a tough time.

Heating up of the IOR with surprise criss-crossing of Chinese stealth submarines to and from the Pakistani waters is another challenge New Delhi must be prepared to address.


The closeness of post-9/11 Kabul regimes with New Delhi has long been a bone of contention in the Af-Pak relations. With the Afghan regime still facing challenges from the Taliban, the Sino-Pak combine has ramped up its efforts to dominate the security discourse in Afghanistan. It is a known fact that a negotiation window between the Taliban and China is active and a Taliban delegation paid a secret visit to China last July.

Parallely, China has also increased its aid and economic activities in Afghanistan with the commencement of direct railway connectivity being the recent high point. As Beijing follows the strategy of keeping negotiations open with all the stakeholders irrespective of their legitimacy, it also looks forward to put Pakistan on-board at any opportunity it finds regarding the Afghan issue.

The recent meeting between Russia, China and Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation, which called for reviving talks with Taliban demonstrate the keenness with which China and Pakistan wish to see the Taliban having a say in running Kabul’s affairs, something which is anything but good for Afghan peace and India’s hard-earned goodwill in the nation.    

Though the mobile version of Agni-V is indeed a game-changer in the hitherto skewed Sino-Indian strategic balance and has filled the much needed gap in India’s nuclear capabilities, the reactions from Beijing have been thoroughly unsettling. All the above mentioned issues point towards rekindling the flashpoints which have always kept interstate relations simmering in South Asia.

Intensification of these multiple challenges cannot be ruled out as Beijing’s reactions suggest, but what remains to be seen is how New Delhi is geared to handle them.

Also read: How Agni-V hit China hard even before its launch



Prateek Joshi Prateek Joshi

The author is a postgraduate in International Relations from South Asian University (a SAARC Nations Project), New Delhi and an independent researcher covering South Asia’s geostrategic issues.

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