Why China’s military messages to the US are toothless, and America seems to know it

  • Over the years, China has publicised supposedly game-changing weapons, but still failed to deter US operations in its proclaimed territorial waters and airspace
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2019, 1:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2019, 1:01am

The report on CCTV demonstrating for the first time that China fired its next generation intermediate range ballistic missile, the Dongfeng-26, prompted many experts quoted by the Post to claim this as yet another deliberate message from the People’s Liberation Army to the US that China “can hit moving targets like ships” (“Missile footage sends messages to US, analysts say,” January 29).

Observant readers in and outside China may be excused for wondering why messages repeated over decades, parading multiple, supposed game-changers against mobile targets like aircraft carriers and long-range bombers – from “Sunburn” supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles aboard Sovremennye-class destroyers, “Black Hole” Kilos-class submarines and Sukhoi-35 fighter jets imported from Russia to indigenous anti-ship ballistic missiles, from the earlier generation DF-21 to the current DF-26 – all failed to deter annoying US naval vessels and strategic B-52 bombers from conducting frequent freedom of navigation operations in China’s proclaimed territorial seas, skies and exclusive economic zones, or transiting sensitive waters like the Taiwan Strait.

The quoted commentators, intentionally or not, never informed readers what Pentagon is aware of: China never realistically tested any of these “killer maces” (as Chinese writers like to call them) against targets at sea, not even at abandoned ships, never mind more manoeuvrable unmanned surface vessels. Maybe these messages will become less “toothless” if the PLA stops just firing at sand dunes in deserts.

Chan K. Leung, Happy Valley