China has claimed a successful test of a land-based ballistic missile interception system amid heightened tensions in Asia, in a move its defence ministry described as “defensive and not aimed at any country”.
Beijing has in recent years been ramping up research into all sorts of missiles, from those that can destroy satellites in space to advanced nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, as part of a modernisation overseen by President Xi Jinping. It came after North Korea conducted a series of missile tests, which prompted South Korea and the US to warn that Pyongyang could conduct a nuclear test at any time.
“It looks like China is making steady progress on what appears to be hit-to-kill missile defence technology – a cutting-edge strategic military capability,” said Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace based in Beijing.
“The Chinese multi-layered missile defence systems could introduce significant uncertainties to the efficacy of the missile programs of China’s rivals. The offence-defence competition involves not only traditional ballistic missiles but also new types of missiles like boost-glider weapons that emerged in recent years, making the competition increasingly harder to manage and control.”
China’s state media said it was Beijing’s sixth known test of a land-based anti-ballistic missile. The most recent previous public announcement of a test was in February 2021, and before that in 2018. China said it has conducted anti-missile system tests since at least 2010.
China, along with Russia, has repeatedly expressed opposition to the US deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.
China argued the equipment’s powerful radar could penetrate into its territory. China and Russia have also held simulated anti-missile drills.
On Monday, the state-owned Global Times quoted a Chinese expert as saying that although small in size, the mid-course antiballistic missile “has a complete set of combat systems, including power, tracking, target-identifying systems and the killer part”.
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The report also said that despite China’s official line saying the test did not target any other country, the US is “the biggest source of ballistic missile threats to China”. If the US succeeds in deploying intermediate range missiles near China, the report said, it would mean China will face not only more missile threats, but also more uncertainties.
“If US missiles are deployed in multiple locations along the island chains, it would be more difficult to predict from where those missiles could come from.”
In 2016, the defence ministry confirmed it was pressing ahead with anti-missile system tests after pictures appeared on state television.
Beijing said such technology was needed for national defence and security.
Reuters contributed to this report.