China Boosting Military Capabilities in Light of Tough U.S. Rhetoric

China’s recent testing of a nuclear-capable missile could be seen as part of recent moves to show off its military capabilities and could be motivated by hawkish rhetoric from the Trump administration, Chinese analysts have said.

China recently tested a multi-warhead, nuclear-capable missile that can reach targets in Taiwan, Korea and Japan, as well as moving ships at sea. The test of the Dongfeng-16 missile appeared on a defense ministry website last week – the third time the DF-16 has been shown to the public.

The video was released within a day of US Defence Secretary James Mattis’ visit to Tokyo.

Zhao Tong, a nuclear security expert at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, said that the move could be interpreted as a “show of force”.

“Its recent appearance could possibly be interpreted as a show of force against the background that the US and Japan are increasing their missile defence capabilities,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “This new missile is reported to be more capable of penetrating missile defence systems and could be more accurate in hitting targets in Japan.”

Cheng Xiaohe from the Renmin University of China told Channel NewsAsia he believed China wanted to send a strong message to the Trump administration.

“If the Trump administration wants to play hardball, China would join,” he said. “China has the capacity and all kinds of means to counter any kind of strong policies taken by the Trump administration.”

Even before his election victory in November last year, US President Donald Trump had repeatedly said he would take a far harder line towards what he called “the bad China”. Since his election, he has questioned the One China policy that has underpinned US-China relations since the 1970s, and has accused Beijing of militarising the South China Sea as well as manipulating its currency, among other things.

Though Trump has spoken with leaders from almost 20 countries since his inauguration, he has yet to reach out to Chinese President Xi Jinping, which some political watchers say is a clear sign of chilling ties between the two nuclear-armed superpowers

Chinese state media has said that China is stepping up its preparedness for a possible military conflict with the US if Trump follows through with a more hardline policy to counter China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea.

A commentary on the official website of the Peoples’ Liberation Army also said that the chances of war have become “more real” amid a more complex security situation in the Asia-Pacific.

“The uncertainties will inevitably lead to misperceptions,” Dr Cheng told Channel NewsAsia. “Misperceptions lead to misjudgement. Misjudgement leads to wrong decisions. Wrong decisions may lead to conflict, even military conflict.”

China also sees the planned deployment of a US missile defence system, known as the terminal high-altitude area defence – or THAAD – in South Korea as a move to alter the power balance in the region.

This could prompt China to step up an arms race, analysts said.

“If China believes its own nuclear deterrent capability can potentially be undermined by the growing missile defence systems in the Asia-Pacific region, China might have further incentives to enhance its own nuclear capabilities, and that’s a potential cause for nuclear arms race,” said Zhao.

So far, Beijing has downplayed the prospect of conflict with the United States. Its foreign minister has said that a war between China and the US would be good for no one.

SOURCE: Jeremy Koh
Channel NewsAsia