NEW DELHI - India said Thursday it had successfully launched a missile with nuclear capability and a range of 3,100 miles, giving it the ability to strike Beijing and Shanghai and heightening fears of an Asian arms race.
With the launching of the missile, called the Agni 5, India joins a small group of countries with long-range nuclear missile capability, including China, Britain, France, Russia, Israel, and the United States. Agni is the Hindi word for fire.
The launching comes amid growing international apprehension about the militarization of Asia and a stepped-up strategic rivalry there between the United States and China. In March, Beijing announced a double-digit increase in military spending, and India recently became the world’s top arms buyer, displacing China, in part because China has increased its domestic production of weapons. And Thursday, South Korea tested a missile capable of hitting anywhere in North Korea, less than a week after North Korea launched a rocket that failed minutes after takeoff.
The missile launching in India “increases the perception of an arms race, and the reality of an arms race, in East Asia, particularly between China and India,’’ said Graeme P. Herd, head of the international security program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, which trains diplomats on peace and security issues.
The timing may be seen as particularly provocative, he said, coming as China’s government deals with a scandal involving one of its top officials and after the United States has stepped up its military presence in the Pacific.
“All of this, from the Chinese perspective, looks like a movement from balancing China to containing China,’’ Herd said, and it could inspire Beijing to strengthen its weapons stockpile and forge closer ties with Pakistan and Central Asian countries.
The launching was largely celebrated in India, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it “another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science.’’ .
The United States, which led the criticism of North Korea last week, appeared to warily endorse India’s missile launching.
“We urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities,’’ said Mark C. Toner, a State Department spokesman. “That said, India has a solid nonproliferation record.’’