BEIJING (Reuters) - China successfully tested emerging military technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air, the government said, while state media warned ties with Washington would be hurt by U.S. missile sales to Taiwan.
China claims Taiwan is an illegitimate breakaway from mainland rule and sees the U.S. arms sales an intrusion into a domestic dispute.
The brief report on the “ground-based mid-course missile interception technology” from China’s state-run Xinhua news agency gave few details, and did not specify whether any missile or object had been destroyed in the test, staged on Chinese soil.
“The test has achieved the expected objective,” said the report, without describing that objective.
“The test is defensive in nature and is not targeted at any country,” it quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry as saying.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu gave few clues about the test, but she told a news briefing it had not left fragments in space or created risks for orbiting vessels.
This latest flexing of China’s maturing military hardware came after the United States cleared a sale of Patriot air defense missiles to Taiwan last week, drawing condemnation from Beijing.
China’s ire over the arms sales shows no sign of escalating into military confrontation or diplomatic upheaval. But Beijing’s growing assertiveness over the issue could magnify strains with Washington while both sides grapple with economic tensions and the U.S. seeks Chinese backing on Iran and other disputes.
“China feels the United States on the one hand wants all kinds of cooperation, but on the other hand keeps selling weapons to Taiwan, and this discrepancy is expanding,” said Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University.
“There won’t be any substantive reversal in relations over this,” he added. “But China’s self-confidence is growing and it feels these weapons sales to Taiwan are humiliating.”
The Patriot “PAC-3” missiles can destroy missiles in mid-air, and could be used against the thousand or more offensive missiles that Taiwan says China has along its coast facing the island.
A commentary from the Xinhua agency on Monday warned of broader fallout from the Patriot missile deal.
“Each time the United States has sold weapons to Taiwan, there has been huge damage to China-U.S. relations,” said the commentary, issued separately from the report on the anti-missile test. “This U.S. arms sale to Taiwan will be no exception.”
The commentary accused the Obama administration of betraying a commitment to respect each country’s “core interests.”
“Immediately halt weapons sales to Taiwan to avoid damaging cooperation between China and the United States in important areas,” it said. It did not specify those areas.
China curtailed military-to-military contacts with the United States after then President George W. Bush notified Congress in October 2008 of plans to sell Taiwan a long-delayed arms package worth up to $6.4 billion.
Senior Chinese People’s Liberation Army officials have also urged Beijing to punish Washington and U.S. firms for arms deals with the disputed island.
“We have the power and ability to adopt counter-measures (against U.S. arms sales to Taiwan),” Jin Yinan, a PLA major-general and professor at China’s National Defense University, wrote in a newspaper, the Study Times, earlier this month. “We must use counter-measures to make the other side pay a corresponding price and suffer corresponding punishment.”
PLA officials and documents in recent years have said developing anti-missile technology is one focus of defense spending, which has grown by double-digits over many years.
China’s anti-missile technology remains relatively primitive, “far from forming an operational capability,” a weapons expert, Yang Chengjun, told the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper.
Beijing has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Communist forces won the Chinese civil war and fleeing Nationalists gained control of the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, recognizing Beijing’s “one China” policy. But Washington remains Taiwan’s biggest military backer and says it is obliged to help the island defend itself.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie