Pentagon Warns China Over Ballistic Missile Launches in South China Sea as Tensions Escalate

The Pentagon said Beijing has further destabilized the situation in the South China Sea, after it test-launched ballistic missiles during military exercises in the contested waters.

“Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability,” the Pentagon said in a statement issued on Aug. 27.

The Pentagon statement said Beijing fired these missiles around the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the region, while conducting exercises, but did not specify which date, how many had been fired, or the types of missiles.

Chinas Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) is conducting exercises in the South China Sea from Aug. 23 to 29.

“This military exercise is the latest in a long string of PRC [Peoples Republic of China] actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” the Pentagon said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy stated on Twitter that its guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin conducted “routine operations in the waters” near the Paracel Islands to ensure a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

The Chinese regime has amped up its aggression in the region as the United States has simultaneously sought to counter its threats.

Islands, reefs, and rocks in the strategic waterway are claimed by a number of countries, including Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Beijing has used the “nine-dash line” to proclaim sovereignty over 90 percent of the South China Sea, despite a United Nations legal judgment in 2016 that refuted Beijings claims.

In recent years, Beijing has sought to bolster its claims by building military outposts on artificial islands and reefs in the region. It has also deployed coast guard ships and Chinese fishing boats to intimidate foreign vessels, block access to waterways, and seize shoals and reefs.

On July 13, the United States formally rejected Beijings claims in the South China Sea, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the claims were “completely unlawful” and that China was conducting a “campaign of bullying to control” the area.

This week, the U.S. Commerce Department placed 24 Chinese state-owned companies on a trade blacklist, citing their involvement in militarizing the South China Sea. The State Department also announced that it will impose visa restrictions on Chinese citizens responsible for such endeavors.

Some China experts said that though Beijing is acting tough, it likely will not want to engage in a true conflict with the United States.

Chinese Missiles

On Thursday, Japanese media NHK reported that China fired four ballistic missiles toward the South China Sea on Wednesday, citing unnamed U.S. military sources. NHK stated the missiles fell between Chinas island province of Hainan and Paracel Islands.

Meanwhile, South China Morning Post, citing an unnamed source close to the Chinese military, said Beijing fired two missiles, a DF-26B missile and a DF-21D missile, on Wednesday.

According to the Pentagons 2019 annual report to Congress, the DF-26, a nuclear and conventional capable ballistic missile, has a range of about 4,000 km (2,485 miles), and the DF-21D, an anti-ship ballistic missile, can exceed a range of 1,500 km (932 miles).

Pentagon official Alan R. Shaffer previously said at a military conference in March 2019 that the DF-26 can reach Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific and a major resupply station for U.S. forces.

Chinese officials have kept mum about the missile launches. Asked about the Pentagons statement during a daily briefing on Friday afternoon, Chinas Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not comment on the launches but accused the United States of being the “destroyer and troublemaker” of stability in the South China Sea.

The day prior, Wu Qian, spokesperson for Chinas Ministry of National Defense, said at a press conference that the exercises “are not directed at any country” but made no mention of the missile launches.

Military Exercises

Concurrently, Beijing is conducting military drills in three other waterways near China: the Bohai Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the East China Sea.

Wu Qian said at a Thursday press conference that the PLAs military exercises in the Yellow and Bohai seas were aimed at Taiwan.

“We continually organized the combat drills in the Taiwan straits targeting foreign forces, targeting the Taiwan independence separatist forces,” Wu claimed.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory despite it being a self-ruled island with its own democratically-elected government, military, and currency.

Though Wu did not name the United States, in the past, the Chinese regime has used similar language to accuse it of supporting a split between the mainland and Taiwan. On Aug. 10, Chinas hawkish state-run media Global Times ran an editorial that said the U.S. was using Taiwan “as its pawn to contain the Chinese mainland.”

On Aug. 13, Global Times published an article saying that Chinas military drills in the Taiwan straits were aimed at deterring “the provocative and dangerous connection between the island [Taiwan] and the U.S.”

The article quoted a Chinese analyst, who said that “if the U.S. and Taiwan secessionists go further, the PLA could take more countermeasures, including live-fire missile drills east of Taiwan island and near Guam.”

US Plane

This week, the Chinese regime also accused the United States of “trespassing” its no-fly zone when a U-2 reconnaissance plane flew over combat drills in the Bohai Sea.

Wu called the U-2 flight a “provocative” action during an Aug. 25 press conference.

The U.S. Pacific Air Forces, in a statement to CNN, stated the U-2 flight “was conducted in the Indo-Pacific area of operations and within the accepted international rules and regulations governing aircraft flights.”

Taiwanese lawmaker Wang Ting-yu said in a video posted on his Facebook page on Thursday that he believed Chinas decision to fire ballistic missiles was to “hit back” at the United States for the reconnaissance plane flyover.

State-run newspaper Peoples DaiRead More – Source