Reported by Jonah Bennett; National Security/Foreign Policy Reporter
The Chinese Defense Ministry just confirmed it recently tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, sending a strong signal to outside observers, just as disputes over the South China Sea mount. The ministry released a statement saying “technological research experiments conducted according to plan within China’s boundaries are normal and are not aimed at any specific nations or targets,” according to a Thursday Associated Press report.
As usual, the ministry, though tacitly admitting of the launch, did not confirm the location of the test site.
A Tuesday report from the Free Beacon quoted Pentagon officials saying the Chinese military tested a DF-41 missile. What seems clear is the Chinese are working on retooling their ICBMs to carry nuclear warheads, based on testimony from U.S. Strategic Command Adm. Cecil Harry back in January. Additionally, the missile test comes at a time when tensions over the South China Sea are heating up. One of China’s most prominent military officials, Gen. Fan Changlong, paid a visit to the Spratly Islands at roughly the same time Secretary of Defense Ash Carter flew over to the region.
China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, and although the Pentagon has not taken any stance on ownership claims, it has urged China to stop building artificial islands and reclaiming land. China appears to have ignored the Pentagon completely and regularly balks when the Pentagon conducts freedom of navigation patrols in the region, saying the U.S. is unnecessarily militarizing the area by developing alliances with other countries under threat by China.
Meanwhile, China is also slowly militarizing its artificial islands, making it more obvious that the purpose of the islands is not purely or even primarily civilian. But to maintain that image, China has paid civilian fishing boats to assert its claims in the region, so that it does not appear as though the military is stepping up efforts to claim the South China Sea as its sovereign territory.
China’s display of force with the DF-41 is significant, given that it has a range of 7,456 miles. This means it can reach any part within the United States.