The United States accused Beijing on Thursday of firing missiles, for promoting “destabilizing” acts in the South China Sea, in a region where several countries are vying for sovereignty over strategic islands.
In a statement, the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, underlines that conducting military exercises in the South China Sea “has an effect contrary to the easing of tensions” and to “maintaining stability”.
The US Department of Defense refers in particular to the Paracel archipelago, controlled by Beijing, but also claimed by Vietnam.
Since the beginning of July, the Pentagon has said it is “concerned” about Chinese military maneuvers in that strategic archipelago, where the United States regularly sends warships to guarantee “freedom of movement”.
According to a Hong Kong newspaper on Thursday, the Chinese army launched two missiles into the South China Sea, including an “aircraft carrier destroyer” that analysts suggest targeting US forces in the region.
The DF-26B and DF-21D missiles fired on Wednesday targeted an area between the island province of Hainan and the Paracel Islands, said the South China Morning Post, which cites unidentified sources close to the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese armed forces.
China’s defense and foreign affairs ministries have not confirmed the information.
The disputes over the sovereignty of the South China Sea, one of the busiest trade routes in the world, are increasingly a source of tension between Beijing and Washington and the countries of Southeast Asia.
Washington this year rejected most of Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over almost the entire sea, which is also disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines or Malaysia.
The launch of the missiles on Wednesday came after Chinese claims that a US spy plane, the U2, entered a “no-fly zone” declared by Beijing during a military exercise in the north of the country.
The DF-21 is highly accurate and has been dubbed an “aircraft carrier destroyer” by military analysts, who believe it was developed with a view to targeting US aircraft carriers that are involved in a potential conflict with China.
Beijing has consecutively increased the defense budget over the past two decades, aiming to develop missiles, fighter planes, nuclear submarines and other weapons that will allow it to expand its military reach beyond coastal regions.
The DF-26B was launched from Qinghai province in the northwest of the country, while the DF-21D was fired from Zhejiang province on the east coast, advanced the South China Morning Post.
The DF-26 is believed to be capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads, which would violate the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.
Donald Trump’s government cited China’s development of the DF-26 and similar weapons when it withdrew from that treaty last year.
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