The Chinese regime went ahead with tests of its newest ballistic missile on April 12, which can allegedly carry up to 10 nuclear warheads to any part of the United States.
It conducted the tests while also expressing discord over an upcoming decision from an international arbitration court about China’s claims to the South China Sea. The case, brought to court by the Philippines, could discredit China’s claims to the region.
Unnamed Pentagon officials revealed details on the missile test to the Washington Free Beacon. They allegedly monitored the flights of two missiles, which appeared on military satellites and regional sensors.
The officials did not detail the location of the test, but the Free Beacon notes in the April 19 article that previous tests were carried out from the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Center in central China.
It also notes the tests came just three days before Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, and around the same time that a high-ranking Chinese general “made an unusual visit to a disputed South China Sea island.”
According to Dr. Bernard D. Cole, who teaches Sino-American Relations and Maritime Strategy at the National War College, the test was likely planned long in advance
“The DF-41 has been in development for at least 15 years, probably longer, so this is just the end of a very long development cycle,” he said in a phone interview.
The Free Beacon also noted that Kanwa Asian Defense reported last month that China’s new intercontinental ballistic missile was in its final testing phase, and they were expected to deploy it near Xinyang in Henan province, in central China.
Cole said that China having a nuclear weapon that can strike the United States may not have a significant impact on how the United States deals with China, but it could affect the behavior of the Chinese regime.
“I don’t know that it’s going to make the U.S. approach different, if at all, but it will give China more confidence as they deal with issues,” Cole said.
He added, “It will build a confidence in their diplomacy and their miltiary status.”
Another factor is that the Chinese regime has been mulling over plans to change its policy on nuclear weapons from “survivability” to a hair-trigger status that has its missiles ready to launch at any moment.
The Union of Concerned Scientists noted China’s potential shift in policy in a Feb. 16 report. It said China may be moving “toward a policy of launch-on-warning and hair-trigger alert,” and noted the United States also uses a hair-trigger alert.
“Such a change would dramatically increase the risk of a nuclear exchange or accident—a dangerous shift that the United States could help avert,” it stated.
According to Cole, the “worse case situation” with China’s new missiles and its alleged policy changes would be if policies of mutually-assured destruction were to emerge between China and the United States, similar to what existed between the United State and the Soviets during the Cold War.
He said, however, that there seems to be no indication that things are moving in that direction, yet noted “it’s possible.”
With the latest test in particular, Cole said, “it’s an important development, but I don’t think it’s a crucial one.”