Did China test missile that could hit any target in US two days before Donald Trump’s visit?
Evidence points to ICBM test on Monday as Beijing responds to Russia and America’s intensified nuclear tests
China is likely to have tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could strike anywhere in the United States just two days before President Donald Trump’s Beijing visit.
Chinese military experts said the tests were intended to send a message to the US by highlighting China’s nuclear capability at a time when both the US and Russia are intensifying their own tests of ICBMs and hypersonic vehicles.
However, it was unclear whether the test had been deliberately timed to coincide with Trump’s visit.
On Sunday, Beijing announced an air closure zone over an area in Gobi Desert that has been used in the past to test China’s newest ICBM the DF-41.
The announcement said the 53-minute closure would end at around 9am on Monday, two days before Trump arrived in Beijing.
The DF-41 which has a range of 12,000km is one of the most cutting-edge weapons in the People’s Liberation Army.
The missile is equipped with two multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, each of which is capable of carrying several warheads. Its range allows the PLA to strike anywhere inside the US.
The Chinese foreign ministry declined to confirm whether it had conducted a test following a query from the South China Morning Post. The defence ministry did not reply to this newspaper’s questions on Thursday evening.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator with Phoenix TV, said it was possible the PLA’s Rocket Force had conducted ICBM tests in the air-closure zone in Gobi Desert, on Monday following its announcement of closure.
The location has previously been used for ground-based, high-altitude anti-missile tests and other ICBM tests.
Earlier reports from state media have said that the missile had been put in service by the PLA’s newly established Rocket Force before the start of this year.
Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chengming said he would not rule out the possibility that Beijing wants flex its military muscles before Trump’s visit as China has made similar gestures ahead of visits by US top officials.
The most notable example was the maiden flight made by the PLA’s J-20 fighter in January 2010 when then US defence secretary Robert Gates visited Beijing, Zhou said.
The key message was highlighting Beijing’s nuclear deterrent, he said.
“China, the US and Russia have started a secret competition over long-range strike technologies in recent years. There are voices saying there is a need for the three super powers to agree a higher level nuclear weapons convention as soon as possible,” Zhou said.
“As one of the three super powers in the world, China also needs to do something to boost its nuclear deterrence.”
But Song said the timing could just be a coincidence because the test should have been scheduled long before the date of the US president’s visit was confirmed.
“ICBM tests are very complicated. It needs many departments to work on and coordinate them. It should have been organised last year, but the US President’s Beijing trip was confirmed just two months ago,” Song, who previously served in the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, the predecessor of Rocket Force, said.
At the end of last month, Russia tested four ICBMs, one of which was identified by its defence ministry as the Satan 2, also known as the RS-28 Sarmat.
Moscow has claimed the missile is capable of carrying 12 nuclear warheads.
Moscow’s latest exercise followed a successful test of US air force’s Minuteman 3 ICBM in California on August 2.
The tests come amid rising tensions over North Korea, which has conducted at least 13 rounds of missile tests this year.
Song said the latest ICBM tests indicated that Beijing was strengthening its nuclear capability in the wake of the US and Russian tests.
He added that China’s nuclear strategy was designed to avoid the risk of nuclear “blackmail” and was “not as aggressive as the US and Russia”.
Besides ICBMs and missile defence systems, China has also followed the US in developing hypersonic glide vehicles, a technology that can reach any target in the world within an hour using unmanned hypersonic bomber aircraft.
Last month, state-run China Central Television broadcast a special features discussing its JF-12 hypersonic wind tunnel and disclosing the different aircraft models it was testing.