October 1, 2022
Chinese officials conducted a successful test of an anti-ballistic missile system that analysts and state media billed as a bulwark against a hypothetical U.S. attack.

Chinese officials conducted a successful test of an anti-ballistic missile system that analysts and state media billed as a bulwark against a hypothetical U.S. attack.

“The test is defensive in nature and not targeted against any country,” the Chinese Defense Ministry said.

The spare statement characterized the test as a “land-based mid-course missile interception test” that “achieved the desired test objective.” Chinese analysts and state media hastened to frame it as a “shield”  against a hypothetical U.S. attack on Beijing’s growing nuclear arsenal.

“The development of our nuclear force is very limited,” former People’s Liberation Army missile force expert Shao Yongling told state media. “[That means] we must ensure the survivability of our nuclear force.”

The balance of nuclear power has become a charged topic between the United States and China, as Beijing has refused to join arms control talks with the U.S. and Russia while stockpiling nuclear warheads and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe boasted at a recent security summit that “there has been impressive progress” in the development of China’s nuclear forces, but he maintained that Beijing regards them as a defensive weapon.

“We use it for self-defense,” the Chinese defense chief said at the IISS Shangri La Dialogue. “We will not be the first to use nuclear power. And we develop nuclear capabilities for the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. We develop nuclear capabilities to protect the hard work of the Chinese people and protect our people from the scourge of nuclear warfare.”

U.S. military officials, for their part, have acknowledged a misgiving that China’s nuclear upgrades are “increasingly inconsistent with a stated no-first-use policy,” raising the specter of a preemptive strike. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invocation of nuclear weapons to deter Western intervention on behalf of Ukraine has stoked anxiety in the Indo-Pacific that other nuclear-armed regimes might follow suit.

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Chinese state media emphasized that the United States has a “lower success rate” in similar missile defense tests, but they acknowledged that it “does not necessarily mean China has surpassed the US, because the US tests might involve different and more challenging simulation parameters,” as Global Times put it.

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