In what may be another sign of a quiet but persistent arms race between the US and China, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has told the world that the PLA has successfully tested a ground-based midcourse anti-missile system.
This is a very sensitive issue for the Pentagon. When contacted, several OSD experts on China declined comment. One said simply this is, “a very sensitive topic about which we were told not to comment.”
Reaction from independent China watchers was decidedly mixed. Larry Wortzel, a member of the congressionally-mandated US-China Economic and Security Review Commission and top expert on the Chinese military, was laconic. "Developing missile defense is a natural evolution for the People's Liberation Army. However," he noted that, "it makes it more difficult from a political standpoint to object to US and Japanese missile defenses."
Dean Cheng, who now has Wortzel's old job as the top China analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, cast it as another sign that China is really engaged in an arms race with the United States, fearful they may be "outpaced."
"The reportedly successful test of a Chinese anti-missile system should give US planners at DOD, Foggy Bottom, and the White House pause. Much as China tested an anti-satellite system even as its diplomats claimed that China was not interested in "militarizing space," it would seem that Chinese concerns about US missile defense developments are more a reflection of concerns about being outpaced by American technological capability than foregoing a capability," Cheng said. "More to the point, however, it is striking that China should be developing anti-ballistic missile capabilities, when it is not confronted with ballistic missiles, but cruise missiles and manned bombers, at least from the US and its allies."
That raises the issue, Cheng said, of what country is the "ultimate focus" of China's military as it develops this new capability. He said it's either: "Russia (a nation with substantial short- and medium-range ballistic missiles); India (another nation with substantial investment in medium-range ballistic missiles); or the development of a full-blown anti-ICBM system in order to confront the United States. (Note that the recent test would be no more than a stepping stone on the way to any of these capabilities.)”
Regardless of who China is reacting to, Cheng said that once the system is operational then China "would have still more strategic options available to it for various contingencies."
We've got feelers out to a wide array of congressional aides and China analysts. As we hear back from them we will update this story,