India's Successful Nuclear Missile Launch Escalates Tensions With China


Compared to the failed North Korean missile launch earlier this month, India has shown that it has more than bravado when it comes to arms development. India's successful April 19 launch of Agni V, a long-range, nuclear-capable missile, reminds us that stability in Asia is precarious. Although China and India have fostered a strengthened diplomatic, economic, and military relationship over the past few years, bilateral trust between the two Asian giants has not been established. In fact, we should not forget the underlying tension beneath their political display of diplomacy.

The decades-long dispute over land in Tibet, Kashmir, and Jammu contributes to the tension; in response each country has escalated its military forces near the Line of Actual Control. The landlocked northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh has increased their troops presence to more than 100,000 in recent years, all in response to well-equipped troops and infrastructure on the Chinese side. If conflict breaks out between the nations, Chinese forces will be able to rapidly deploy troops on the nation's roads, while a majority of the Indian soldiers are still patrolling the region on foot.  

Meanwhile, Tibet continues to serve as a source of conflict as China blames the Dalai Lama, and his Tibetan government-in-exile, for encouraging self-immolations; even condoning a self-immolation last month in New Delhi that resulted in the death of a 27-year-old Tibetan monk.

There is also a growing concern, from India and the West, over China's increasingly dominant presence in Southeast Asia. China has put billions of dollars into infrastructure development in Myanmar in order to extract energy resources, and establish key ports with expedited access to trade routes in the Bay of Bengal. 

India also wants to become a central player in the region, and is trying to strengthen economic and military ties with Myanmar so it can trade with ASEAN countries. However, India still lags far behind in terms of foreign investment, and military prowess. But, with India's recent display of increasing weapons capability, India proves that it can provide an important counterweight to Chinese influence in Southeast Asia.

Although there is increased cooperation from both Beijing and New Delhi, competition for influence in the region remains the top priority as both powers continue their rapid industrialization and technological development. It's not just an arms race, but a race to be the next superpower to effectively control, or ward off foreign encroachment from, the West. However, concerns over the narrowness of this rivalry have been raised, since there are suggestions that the U.S. wants to maintain dominance in the Asian region by playing the two superpowers against each other. 

As the ties between India and China are still new, they were only re-established in 1979, hopefully the two nations will be able to strengthen their relationship, and continue engaging in a diplomatic dialogue. The world would do well if these political giants worked together to resolve their historically entrenched differences, rather than destroy their hard-earned prosperity.