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#Analize / Mălina Mîndruțescu

China steps up missile tests

In August of this year, China tested a hypersonic missile, sending a clear message to the country’s space and military capabilities.

Last week, General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff became the first Pentagon official to announce that the act is “very concerning” and resembling a “Sputnik moment” (the term alludes to the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957, which stunned an entire world and increasing concerns that the US was falling behind technologically in an accelerating arms race at the time, in the early years of the nuclear age).

The “nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon was launched into space and orbited the Earth before re-entering the atmosphere and gliding towards its target in China”, reports the Guardian. A test of this kind has not been simulated by the US as of yet, raising alarms about China’s military modernisation.

The Wall Street Journal stated that “U.S. officials and weapons experts outside government have speculated the missile program might be intended as a way to evade U.S. missile defences with a nuclear-armed system. U.S. missile defenses aren’t currently capable of thwarting a substantial Chinese nuclear attack, but Beijing might be concerned the U.S. antimissile capabilities might be expanded in the future. Some U.S. officials say, however, that the new missile might be intended as a nonnuclear system that could be used to attack U.S. ports or installations in the Pacific”.

China’s recent acts of aggression have put the country in direct odds with the United States. Experts argue that tensions resemble a Cold War-like atmosphere between the two great powers. China’s missile test represents just the latest in an array of acts that have proved the US foolishness in undermining Chinese military modernisation.

When asked about the report at a regular press briefing in mid-October, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the test that occurred in Augsut was “a spacecraft, not a missile”, reports CNN.

“The system, if fully developed, would hardly be the most threatening weapon in China’s arsenal. China also has been building silos for ICBMs, which experts say would be cheaper and much more accurate. China currently has a small nuclear arsenal of several hundred warheads, U.S. officials and weapons experts say. But U.S. officials have expressed concern that it could at least double over the next decade and that Beijing’s ultimate objective is to achieve parity with the U.S.’s much larger triad of nuclear forces” the WSJ continued reporting.


Photo source: Xinhua News Agency


Furthermore, an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons policy commented for the Financial Times that “a hypersonic glide vehicle armed with a nuclear warhead could help China negate US missile defence systems which are designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles”.

In response to this move, several states have taken action, chief among them the United States and one of China’s other prominent neighbours, India.

Last week, India “test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000km (3,125 miles) from an island off its east coast amid rising border tensions with China” reports al jazeera. The country is said to have done this in order to be in line with “India’s policy to have credible minimum deterrence that underpins the commitment to no first use”, according to a statement by the Indian government.

indian missiles

Photo source: Associated Press


When it comes to the US stance, Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, has said that China’s work on advanced hypersonic weaponry is among a “suite of issues” that cause the Biden administration to be concerned by “the trajectory of where things are going in the Indo-Pacific, according to the Guardian.

While President Biden has expressed a more restrained agenda when it comes to foreign policy and foreign intervention, including more limited spending on nuclear modernisation and production, the US leader has also weighed on a first use policy when it comes to US nuclear weapons.

Even though president Biden has previously stated that he is not concerned with Russia or China overtaking the military prowess of the United States, he did mention an unnecessary escalation of tensions that could spiral out of control as a real worry.

However, while the US leader may not be as concerned about China rapidly evolving into a modern militarised state, State Department officials are “deeply concerned about the rapid expansion of the PRC’s nuclear capabilities, including its development of novel delivery systems”, according to a statement.

In addition to this, the mounting tensions have only intensified by last week’s news that the US will provide Taiwan with military training in the context of a Chinese invasion. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, was the first leader in decades to confirm publicly the presence of US troops on the island for training purposes and said the threat from Beijing is growing “every day”, according to a CNN interview.

blinken wang yi

Photo source: AFP


At the G20 summit in Rome over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi clashed over the US assistance of Taiwan. Blinken’s promise to help Taiwan’s defence came a week after president Biden said that the US may also support the country’s independence militarily, while the Secretary of State called for Taiwan to be recognised within UN institutions.

Despite the Democrat’s agenda of less interventionism and spending when it comes to foreign policy, tensions between Beijing and Washington have risen under the Biden administration.

US military officials have consistently raised the alarm in recent months with regards to China’s increasing nuclear capabilities. This has especially been the case, since “China is not bound by any arms-control deals and has been unwilling to engage the US in talks about its nuclear arsenal and policy” and after the release of satellite imagery that showed the country building more than 200 intercontinental missile silos, according to the FT.

For other True Story Project analyses on China and the US, please click here and here.


Photo source: Associated Press

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