The tests are expected to ratchet up tension in the contested region, as well as between China and the US.
China has been testing anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) in the South China Sea over the weekend, NBC News reported on Tuesday. The move was in contradiction with a 2015 statement by President Xi Jinping pledging not to militarize the man-made outposts China had built in these waters, said Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn.
“I’m not going to speak on behalf of all the sovereign nations in the region, but I’m sure they agree that the PRC’s behavior is contrary to its claim to want to bring peace to the region and obviously actions like this are coercive acts meant to intimidate other South China Sea claimants,” said Lt. Col. Eastburn. China’s latest test was part of a naval drill located near the Paracel and Spratly island groups, territories which are contested between China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Many see the latest test as China’s answer to the US-Japan joint naval exercise on the South China Sea on June 20, which included the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Escort Flotilla 1. China has argued that these exercises constitute aggressive behavior from the US.
There are also concerns that the test signifies an increase in China’s anti-access, area-denial capabilities, which can escalate tension in the area as China’s neighbors react against its expansionism. Vietnam, also a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, has been stepping up its strategic partnership with the US, participating for the first time in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military exercise in 2018.
China’s ASBM test came on the heels of a ceasefire in the trade war between the US and China, with President Trump announcing during the weekend G20 summit that future tariffs are on hold while both countries resume trade talks. It is unclear whether continuing Chinese military aggression would present an obstacle in these negotiations.