Missile fight

Olivia Chavassieu
Olivia Chavassieu |

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Download this worksheet and analyse the cartoon


‧ Why do you think China organised this rocket test?

‧ Competing to get the best military equipment is not new. Which country behaved in this way from the end of the second world war until the 1970s?

‧ What do you think those countries are trying to prove or defend beyond their military power?

Refers to:

US asks for more details on missile intercept test

Cary Huang in Beijing

Washington asked Beijing yesterday for more information about Monday's rocket test, in which a missile destroyed an incoming warhead while it was still in space. The US said it wanted China to clarify its intentions and plans to develop such technologies.

The US Defence Department confirmed it had detected a so-called mid-course test and said Beijing had not given it advance notice.

"We detected two geographically separated missile launch events with an exo-atmospheric collision also being observed by space-based sensors," Major Maureen Schumann, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said. It was the first independent confirmation of China's missile interception test on Monday, which appears to have been a success as Beijing claimed. China became only the second nation, after the United States, to successfully test a mid-course anti-missile system.

The Pentagon said the United States did not consider the test was related to its arms sales to Taiwan - as suggested by many mainland newspapers and military observers.

Yu Wanli, a professor at Peking University's Centre for International and Strategic Studies, agreed, saying that, given the vast resources and time needed to develop and prepare such complicated technology, Monday's test was unlikely to have been a response to last week's sale of Patriot air-defence missiles to Taiwan.

The high-profile manner in which China announced the test did suggest a confident Beijing was growing impatient over perceived US "muddling" of issues it considered to be at the core of its national interests.

Xinhua released another commentary yesterday attacking the US decision to sell arms to Taiwan, saying it had hurt the Chinese people's feelings and damaged the mutual trust between the two sides.

The arms deal and the missile test had cast a chill on the crucial bilateral relationship that could shape the region and even the world in the years ahead, analysts said. The Pentagon's request for Beijing to clarify its intentions showed that the US was more concerned with what China intended to do with the technology.

However, analysts said Washington and Beijing would refrain from tough action that might jeopardise their relationship, as both sides had a wide range of issues of mutual interest and needed each other.

"The overall interests between the two far outweigh their differences on this issue [Taiwan]," said Andrew Yang Nien-dzu, from the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, based in Taiwan.

While ties between China and the US are expected to hit a rough patch this year, over thorny issues ranging from trade to currency to climate change to Tibet, most analysts believe outright confrontation is unthinkable for both sides.

Jin Canrong , a Sino-US affairs expert and associate dean of Renmin University's School of International Studies, said Beijing and Washington had too much at stake and the Chinese leadership wanted to focus on building trust with the White House early in US President Barack Obama's term.

However, that did not mean Beijing would tolerate US infringements of core national interests - such as the sovereignty of Taiwan and Tibet. As the balance of power tilted in favour of China, a more assertive Beijing might be more ready to take "counter-measures" against the US.

The hawkish voices in China are growing and Beijing has been stepping up the rhetoric over the arms sale for a week. Days before Monday's missile test, China's defence ministry warned that it reserved the right to take action if Washington followed through on the sale, which it called a "severe obstacle" to China-US military ties.

"China's upgraded rhetoric is intended to keep pressure on the United States over the Taiwan deals," Yang said.

However, China's reaction was still in keeping with past patterns. The last time the US decided to sell weapons to Taiwan, Beijing cancelled military-to-military exchanges.

"Compared with the previous US arms sales to Taiwan, Beijing has this time raised the tone of its protest and taken countermeasures to show its determination, which suggests China's economic, military and political clout has risen in recent years while the US is declining against the backdrop of financial crisis," Jin said.

Richard Hu, a professor of international affairs at the University of Hong Kong, said the timing of China's announcement showed Beijing was getting increasingly impatient over the issue, with China's military leadership having sought a solution to the US arms sales issue for the past few years.

Hu suggested that Chinese retaliation might be broader this time and listed options such as suspending military-to-military exchanges, imposing sanctions on US companies selling arms to Taiwan and delaying or suspending co-operation with the US in international affairs.

"Anyway, while Chinese diplomats are working out a list of options for retaliation, Washington might also be seriously reviewing China's test and pressuring China to show military transparency," Hu said.

Last week, Rear Admiral Yang Yi , a People's Liberation Army academic, called for sanctions on US companies over the arms sale.

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