The United States Department of Defense said on Thursday that Chinese test launches of ballistic missiles in the South China Sea were a threat to peace and security in the region.
Confirming reports that China had launched as many as four ballistic missiles during military exercises around the Paracel Islands, the Pentagon said the move called into question the country’s 2002 commitment to avoiding provocative activities in the disputed seas.
“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. “The PRC’s actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea.” The PRC – or People’s Republic of China – is the country’s official name.
“Such exercises also violate PRC commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” the Pentagon statement added.
Over the past decade China has built up military installations on several disputed reefs and outcrops in the South China Sea to assert its claim over much of the area. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia also have maritime claims to the sea.
The South China Morning Post reported earlier on Thursday that China launched an intermediate-range DF-26B ballistic missile from Qinghai Province and a medium-range DF-21D missile from Zhejiang Province after a US spy plane reportedly entered a Chinese-designated “no-fly zone” in an area where live-fire naval drills were taking place.
China described the flight of the US spy plane in the area as a “provocative action”.
The Pentagon said the Chinese military’s August 23-29 military exercises near the Paracels – which it calls the Xisha Islands – were “the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors.”
It said the US had urged China in July to reduce its “militarization and coercion” in the region.
Instead, “The PRC chose to escalate its exercise activities by firing ballistic missiles,” it said.
The DF-26B was formally unveiled earlier this month, and is capable of hitting moving targets at sea. The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, dubbed it the “aircraft-carrier killer”.
Earlier on Thursday Beijing criticized Washington over its blacklisting of two dozen state-owned Chinese companies involved in building and supplying China’s South China Sea bases.
“The US’s words grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs, it is wholly tyrannical logic and power politics,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian.