The eleventh-hour renewal of the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement between the United States and Russia, after President Joe Biden called President Vladimir Putin, was a reminder of a time when global security was hostage to arms pacts between the two big Cold War powers. But the ink was barely dry on the extension when China delivered a reminder that the world has changed. It was the announcement of a successful ground-based anti-missile interception test, destroying an incoming “nuclear warhead” midcourse far above Earth before it could inflict ground damage. China has been testing missile interception for 10 years and, according to a defence research source, China and the US both use the cutting-edge technology of a kinetic kill vehicle to directly shoot down ballistic missiles. China declares success in latest anti-missile intercept test The defence ministry announcement included the usual line that the test was defensive in nature and not targeted at any particular country. In that respect, however, the timing was interesting if not significant, so soon after Biden and the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had called their counterparts in Moscow, amid pressure to engage China in nuclear arms control. The reality is that Beijing and strategists see US intercontinental ballistic missiles as the biggest potential threats to China’s cities and its own nuclear launch sites. Development of the anti-missile interception system remains a work in progress. More needs to be achieved, according to a military source, before it can be assured of knocking down American nuclear missiles or, for that matter, the rival Russian ones. Nonetheless, one analyst saw the test as a warning of its growing mastery of the technology amid fears the US is developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles, after former president Donald Trump pulled his country out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement with Russia for the elimination of medium- and short-range ground-based missiles. US extends New START nuclear pact with Russia, seeks arms control with China A People’s Liberation Army source also noted that the Chinese test came ahead of the deployment by India of its longest range nuclear-capable ballistic missile this year amid continuing tension along the disputed border with China. In a reminder of the role of missile technology in strategic nuclear arms balance, Russia has claimed to have developed a hypersonic missile that can not only outrun anti-missile defences, but manoeuvre to present a more elusive target. That said, China has revealed a successful test of great significance to national security. It shows, notwithstanding China’s pledge not to be the one that uses nuclear weapons first, that it has the capacity to develop critical technology and is boosting its capability to defend itself if the worst were to happen.