China — Beijing has now surreptitiously revealed a highly accurate ballistic missile system with a range long enough to directly threaten Taiwan, the hotly disputed South China Sea, the Philippines, and Japanese and U.S. military bases in Asia — including Okinawa — with a nuclear first strike.
Increasingly bellicose posturing between President Donald Trump’s administration and the Chinese government over iterations of a trade war, as well as Beijing’s aggression in the South and East China Seas, have spawned rumors of potential military conflict between the world’s two largest economies.
With such an accurate nuclear-capable missile system ready for deployment within range of targets sensitive to U.S. interests, perhaps it’s time to pay attention.
According to the Associated Press, “The medium-range DF-16 featured in a video posted last week on the Defense Ministry’s website showing the missiles aboard their 10-wheeled mobile launch vehicles being deployed in deep forest during exercises over the just-concluded Lunar New Year holiday.
“While the Rocket Force boasts an extensive armory of missiles of various ranges, the DF-16 fills a particular role in extending China’s reach over waters it seeks to control within what it calls the ‘first-island chain.’”
Able to strike targets as far away as 1,000 kilometers (620 feet), the missiles can’t be stopped by several defense systems used by Taiwan.
“It also carries up to three warheads weighing as much as a ton and carrying conventional high explosives or a nuclear weapon. Further increasingly its lethality, the missile is believed to be accurate to within as little as 5 meters (16 feet) of the target, similar to that of a cruise missile,” the AP reports.
Like many nations, China has been known for blustery rhetoric — but intense escalation and braggadocio from the incoming president have soured Beijing to Washington.
“The Chinese government is quite concerned about the potential for direct confrontation with the Trump administration,” Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the global political risk consultant, Eurasia Group, and inventor of the Global Political Risk Index, told CNBC in an email in late January.
“Chinese officials are preparing for the worst, and they expect to retaliate decisively in response to any U.S. policies they perceive as against their interests.”
In particular, the presence of U.S. Navy ships in the South China Sea has incensed Beijing, who claims the waters as Chinese. To the consternation of U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, among others, China constructed islands in disputed waters and proceeded to equip them with military hardware and airplane landing strips.
China’s new nuclear-capable missiles could easily be used — in what Beijing feels is self-defense — should the U.S. accidentally or intentionally tread too far over the line.
And China isn’t alone in preparing for a possible military escalation — of nuclear proportions.
In fact, the U.S. Congress instructed the Pentagon’s Strategic Command, via the 2017 NDAA, to assess the ‘survivability’ of both Russian and Chinese leaders in the event of a nuclear strike. Although such an assessment could be considered standard for nuclear powers, the timing intimates the use of strategic nuclear weapons could be the subject of debate behind closed doors in Washington.
As bluster ratchets up between the U.S. and China, overtones of potential nuclear war cannot be dismissed as incidental.