China threatened countermeasures on Tuesday if the United States deploys intermediate-range, ground-based missiles in Asia and warned US allies of repercussions if they allow such weapons on their territory, Reuters reports.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday he was in favor of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in the region soon, possibly within months.
Washington formally pulled out last week from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a 1987 pact with the former Soviet Union that banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,000 kilometers (310 to 3,400 miles).
US officials had accused Russia of not complying with the treaty but the withdrawal also allows the Pentagon to develop new weapons to counter China, which boasts an increasingly sophisticated land-based missile force. Beijing was not a party to the deal and refused to join.
Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at China’s foreign ministry, said Beijing “will not stand idly by” and watch the US base missiles in Asia.
“If the US deploys missiles in this part of the world, at the doorstep of China, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” Fu told reporters.
“I urge our neighbors to exercise prudence and not to allow the US deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory,” Fu said.
He specifically mentioned Japan, South Korea, and Australia, warning it would not serve their national security interests.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that such missiles would not be deployed in his country.
“It’s not been asked to us, not being considered, not been put to us,” Morrison told reporters in Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland.
A recent increase in tensions between Washington and Beijing, both over trade and rights of navigation in both the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, has put Australia in an awkward spot, as the US is its biggest ally while China is its biggest export market.
Fu did not specify how China would respond but said “everything will be on the table” if US allies made allowances for the missiles.
He also reiterated that China had no interest in taking part in any trilateral talks with the US and Russia to come to new terms on such weapons, arguing that most of China’s missiles could not reach the US heartland.
“Given the huge gap between the nuclear arsenals of China and that of the US and the Russian Federation, I don’t think it is reasonable or even fair to expect China to participate in an arms reduction negotiation at this stage,” Fu said.
On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow would start developing short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles if the US started doing the same after the demise of a landmark arms control treaty.
Esper and other Trump administration officials have accused China of aggressive behavior that is destabilizing the Indo-Pacific region. The war of words over missile deployment in Asia has raised concerns about an arms race in the region.
The US is expected to test a ground-launched cruise missile in the next few weeks. The Pentagon will also aim to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile in November.
However, unrestrained by the treaty, China has already been deploying intermediate-range missiles in massive numbers and has installed military equipment on artificial islands it has made in the disputed and energy-rich South China Sea.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has used sustained budget increases to build an arsenal of advanced missiles, many of which are designed to attack the aircraft carriers and bases that form the backbone of US military dominance in the region and protect its allies.
China is also making rapid strides in developing so-called hypersonic missiles, which can maneuver sharply and travel at five times the speed of sound, or faster.
The US has limited defenses against such missiles, according to Pentagon officials, and is scrambling for new weapons and strategies to counter them.
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(Updated; last posted at 10:16 a.m.)