China has sold Pakistan a powerful tracking system in an unprecedented deal that could speed up the Pakistani military's development of multi-warhead missiles, South China Morning Post has reported.
News of the sale -- and evidence that China is supporting Pakistan's rapidly developing missile program -- comes two months after India tested its most advanced nuclear-ready intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range long enough to hit Beijing or Shanghai, the paper said.
Chinese authorities declassified information about the deal on March 21. A statement on the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) website said China was the first country to export such sensitive equipment to Pakistan. Zheng Mengwei, a researcher with the CAS Institute of Optics and Electronics in Chengdu, Sichuan province, confirmed to the South China Morning Post that Pakistan had bought a highly sophisticated, large-scale optical-tracking and measurement system from China.
The Pakistani military recently deployed the Chinese-made system "at a firing range" for use in testing and developing its new missiles, he said.
India and Pakistan are in a heated race to build up their nuclear-weapons capabilities.
India's January 18 test of its Agni-V ICBM, with a range of more than 5,000km (3,100 miles), is seen as a message that the South Asian giant can deploy a credible nuclear deterrent against China, the Chinese paper said.
While India's single-warhead missiles are bigger and cover longer distances, Pakistan has focused its efforts on developing multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), a type of missile carrying several nuclear warheads that can be directed towards different targets.
Beijing's powerful missile arsenal has driven New Delhi to improve its weapons systems in recent years, with the Agni-V believed to be able to strike nearly all of China.
Tension flared last year between the two neighbors over a long-disputed section of their border high in the Himalayas. India is also increasingly concerned about Beijing's efforts to heighten its influence in the Indian Ocean.
India is already able to strike anywhere inside neighboring Pakistan, its arch-rival.
The Agni-V launch comes one day after India announced that it was spending US$553 million on new weapons for its border guards, including those on the borders of Tibet.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency officially confirmed in March that Pakistan conducted the first test launch of its nuclear-capable Ababeel missile in January 2017, "demonstrating South Asia's first MIRV payload", according to South China Morning Post.
Although the Ababeel missile has a range of only 2,200km, it can deliver numerous warheads to different targets. The technology has the potential to overwhelm a missile-defense system, wiping out an adversary's nuclear arsenal in one surprise attack.
There are growing concerns that MIRV technology will tip the strategic balance between India and Pakistan and destabilize the subcontinent, the Post said, adding: