US cruise missile test will start a new arms race, says China

Lee Jeong-ho

China warned that the US’ test of a medium-range cruise missile would start a new arms race and lead to confrontation, after a launch off the coast of California.

“This measure from the US will trigger a new round of arms race, leading to an escalation of military confrontation, which will have a serious negative impact on the international and regional security situation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Tuesday.

Geng said that the United States should “let go of its cold war mentality” and “do more things that are conducive to … international and regional peace and tranquillity”.

It came after the US conducted a cruise missile flight test on Sunday, weeks after its withdrawal from its arms control treaty with Russia.

The missile “exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500km (311 miles) of flight” at San Nicolas Island in California, the US defence department said in a statement on Monday.

The tested missile was “a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile”, the statement said, suggesting that the missile was not designed to carry a nuclear payload.

“Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the [Department of Defence’s] development of future intermediate-range capabilities,” it added.

The test would not have taken place under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Signatories of the 1987 treaty had agreed “not to possess, produce or flight-test” ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500km.

The United States withdrew from the INF Treaty this month, accusing Moscow of having broken the agreement by developing its nuclear-capable SSC-8 missiles – with an estimated range of 2,600km – and placing some in western Russia.

Washington is also believed to be preparing for another test in November of an intermediate-range ballistic missile that it wants to deploy in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Reuters on Tuesday. This could signal an escalation of tension in the coming months.

Earlier this month, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper expressed a wish to station intermediate-range missiles in the Pacific region within months. His country’s national security adviser John Bolton has also suggested that the missiles could be deployed in Japan and South Korea.

China has vowed to take unspecified countermeasures if the US deploys ground-based missiles in South Korea or Japan. Russia has also said it would respond if they were deployed.

Russia eyes new missile systems to counter United States by 2021

A top Russian diplomat expressed concern on Tuesday about the missile test. Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency that Washington’s actions were increasing “the destabilising potential”.

Ryabkov also said the test proved Russia’s earlier suspicions that the US was testing the previously banned missiles even before it withdrew from the treaty.

Experts said the missile launch hinted at Washington’s evolving priorities.

Washington is also believed to be preparing for another test in November of an intermediate-range ballistic missile that it wants to deploy in the Asia-Pacific region, signalling an escalation of tension in the coming months

Zhang Baohui, director of Lingnan University’s Centre for Asian Pacific Studies in Hong Kong, said: “The US currently has no intermediate-range missiles due to the constraints of the INF, so if it wants to acquire those capabilities after the withdrawal from the treaty, new missiles will have to be developed and tested.

“The new cruise missile, as well as new ballistic missiles with ranges longer than 500km, is intended to increase US deterrence against its main competitors. Beijing certainly does not want to see this development, but it is not a real game-changer, because the US has always based its long-range offensive capabilities on air power, not missile forces.”

Zhang noted that Beijing had rejected pressure from the US to join a new INF treaty. “Missile capability forms the backbone of China’s deterrence and offers some kind of balance against US air power in the Pacific,” he said.

China opposes US withdrawal from nuclear arms treaty with Russia

Zhao Tong, a fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Programme at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said: “The US feels it can no longer sit on its hands and watch Russia developing such capabilities and China building more of these weapons. It reflects a clear arms-race mentality: one’s military build-up is guided not by clear strategy but by a desire to avoid being left behind.

“From the US perspective, to deploy such missiles in Asia would at least force China to take massive measures to protect its military targets from a possible US threat – a cost-imposition strategy to distract and delay China’s build-up of offensive military capabilities.”

Beijing might flex its muscles in response, Adam Ni, a China researcher at Sydney’s Macquarie University, said.

“China sees possible new US missile deployments to its doorstep as very provocative and dangerous,” he said. “It may decide to counter new US missiles by developing and deploying more missiles and increasing their lethality.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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