China is panicking over missile defense cooperation between the U.S. and its allies, specifically Japan and South Korea.
The U.S. and Japan tested a jointly-developed missile interceptor Friday, and just before he departed for Seoul, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the U.S. intends to push forward with plans to deploy a missile shield on South Korean soil in the near future. Opposed to U.S.-led missile defense advancements, China is calling for strategic “countermeasures.”
Looking towards North Korea, the U.S. and Japan tested a Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA interceptor Friday, a weapon designed to eliminate medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, such as the Musudan missile North Korea tested eight times in 2016. Mattis confirmed last week U.S. plans to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which can track, target, and destroy incoming missiles, in South Korea later this year.
Chinese observers assert that America’s strategic intentions are aimed not at Pyongyang, but Beijing and Moscow, and is intended to “disturb the nuclear balance among major powers” so that the U.S. can ” become the sole dominator in the world.”
“China always believes that the anti-missile issue bears on global strategic stability and mutual trust among major powers, and therefore shall be approached with great care,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang explained, adding “We are firmly against the U.S. and [South Korea] deploying the THAAD anti-missile defense system in [South Korea].”
China regularly criticizes THAAD, threatening to take “necessary measures” in response. A Chinese paper now believes that China “will certainly be highlighted in the defensive range of the new SM-3 anti-missile system.”
“The US global missile defense system is ultimately targeted at the nuclear deterrent capability of China and Russia,” the Global Times, a nationalist outlet affiliated with the state-run People’s Daily, argued Tuesday.
“China and Russia cannot make the U.S. give up its obsession with the anti-missile system,” the Global Times explained, “Resolute countermeasures against Washington’s anti-missile achievements are the only way to sustain the current strategic balance. Beijing and Moscow must be clear that thwarting US’ anti-missile efforts is more important to them than their bilateral relationships with Washington.”
“The anti-missile system is the new front of nuclear arms race,” the paper further asserted.
North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and around two dozen ballistic missile tests in 2016. While China publicly condemned the tests, which are in violation of United Nations resolutions prohibiting such behavior, Beijing has been consistently hesitant to put pressure on Pyongyang to adopt a less provocative stance.
Pyongyang also claims that it can mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, a bold yet not entirely implausible claim, and that it is in the final stages of development for an intercontinental ballistic missile that can hit the U.S. Furthermore, North Korea has said that it will turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” and made threats against the U.S. and Japan.
While the North is armed and unpredictable, making it a clear threat, China and Russia continue to believe they are the targets of U.S.-led missile defense initiatives.
“There is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea,” Mattis explained last week.
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