India test-fires missile capable of reaching Beijing

INDIA has successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable missile that can reach Beijing and Eastern Europe, thrusting the emerging Asian giant into a small club of nations that can deploy nuclear weapons at such a great distance.

Footage showed the rocket with a range of more than 3,000 miles blasting through clouds from an island off India’s east coast. It was not immediately clear how far the rocket flew before reaching its target in the Indian Ocean.

The defence minister said the test was “immaculate”.

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“Today’s successful Agni-V test launch is another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a message to the scientists who developed the rocket.

Almost entirely Indian-made, the Agni-V is the crowning achievement of a programme developed primarily with a threat from neighbouring China in mind. It will not be operational for at least two years, the government says.

Only the UN Security Council permanent members - China, France, Russia the United States and Britain - along with Israel, are believed to have such long-range weapons.

“It is one of the ways of signaling India’s arrival on the global stage, that India deserves to be sitting at the high table,” said Harsh Pant, a defence expert at King’s College, London, describing the launch as a “confidence boost”.

The launch, which was flagged well in advance, has attracted none of the criticism from the West faced by North Korea for a failed bid to send up a similar rocket last week.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the two countries should “work hard to uphold friendly strategic cooperation”, and for peace and stability in the region.

“China and India are large developing nations. We are not competitors but partners,” the Chinese ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, said when asked about the missile test at a briefing.

The Global Times tabloid, which is owned by the Chinese Communist Party’s main mouthpiece the People’s Daily, struck a less conciliatory tone.

“India should not overestimate its strength,” the paper said in an editorial published before the launch, which was delayed by a day because of bad weather.

India has not signed the non-proliferation treaty for nuclear nations, but enjoys a de facto legitimacy for its arsenal, boosted by a landmark 2008 deal with the United States.

India says its nuclear weapons programme is for deterrence only. It is close to completing a nuclear submarine that will increase its ability to launch a counter strike if it were attacked.