22 Oct. 2021 16:11

Just a few weeks after AUKUS was hailed as a “game changer” in Western efforts to contain China, we are now reading reports of Beijing’s testing of hypersonic missiles. It becomes clear that the US underestimated China in the arms race.

An analysis by Tom Fowdy

On the weekend appeared in the Financial Times – after the leakage of a report by an anonymous US official – an article alleging China tested a hypersonic nuclear capable missile in orbit around the globe in August 2021. The article quoted US intelligence as saying that the test showed that China had made “amazing strides” in this area.

A hypersonic missile differs from a ballistic missile in its ability to fly far faster than the speed of sound in a lower orbit, which current anti-missile systems cannot do. China itself, however, never announced the test or commented on the reports. This development follows a series of presumptuous press articles claiming that Washington gained the upper hand militarily against China thanks to the AUKUS deal with Australia and Great Britain.

Accordingly, Minxin Pei had on Bloomberg wrote, AUKUS shows that “China cannot win an arms race with the USA.” In an article in the publication Foreign Affairs (Foreign Affairs) Michael Beckley and Hal Brands had also proclaimed the “end of China’s rise”. Current developments paint a different picture, however – one in which, contrary to all expectations, Beijing’s military capabilities continue to grow at a rapid pace. A former Pentagon official, Nicolas Chaillan, had expressed his conviction that China had already “won” the race in the field of artificial intelligence.

If the story of this hypersonic missile is true, it will undoubtedly change China’s military dynamism and undermine the strategic assumption by the US and its allies that any conflict on China’s periphery can be contained in the Pacific and is entirely a maritime affair. But apparently this is no longer the case. With such a hypersonic missile, Beijing could strike practically anywhere in the world within hours – with a nuclear warhead if desired.

US intelligence agencies are focusing on China - but Beijing has an answer

While a nuclear war remains a bummer for obvious reasons, this technological development is tilting the balance of power in China’s favor for the time being. For example, in a maritime conflict in the South China Sea – or in connection with Taiwan – conventional hypersonic missiles could easily be used to sink allied fleets and US aircraft carriers attacking China’s periphery.

In such close proximity to mainland China, they would look like ducks waiting to be safely shot down. And although the nuclear submarines that the USA is to deliver to Australia have been announced as “game changers”, they will probably not be delivered before 2040.

On the other hand, one should keep in mind that this story came to the public through a leak in the US government and thus probably follows an agenda that needs to be brought to light. Leaking stories highlighting an opponent’s skills in order to secure more defense spending is a popular tactic in US domestic politics. Fear sells well. In fact, a member of the RAND Corporation think tank described the rocket development in China as their “Sputnik moment” – with reference to the Soviets, who, to everyone’s surprise, launched the first satellite in human history into orbit and thus ushered in the race into space.

While it should be encouraging for supporters of China to hear that the country is making progress militarily, it should always be remembered that the US is always happy to exaggerate the capabilities of its rivals and stir up mass hysteria in order to mobilize accordingly. Especially if the arms industry is to benefit from it. The situation is then always presented in such a way that the enemy has the upper hand, even with smaller opponents like North Korea. Because the goal is to use this route to force the US to act and to adopt tougher policies.

Nonetheless, it is actually the case that China currently has supersonic military capabilities – and the US currently does not. The intention, then, would be for the United States to invest in itself and build countercapacity. Would you want to exclude that? Currently, Russia and even North Korea have achieved hypersonic capabilities and it seems unlikely, to say the least, America will be able to stay out of this game for long. This is an arms race.

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But the bigger question is, how long will this arms race last, and who will fall behind in the end? The USSR was known to be ahead of the US in many respects in the space race and nuclear weapon development, but lost that lead in the long run.

What many people fail to take into account is that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be compared to that of the Soviet Union, and the former exists on much more favorable terms. It has highly educated officials representing a gigantic population, ever-growing national wealth used for investment, world-class universities, and much more.

It is therefore illogical to assume that AUKUS represents a “final race” in which China could not catch up with the USA and its allies. While this story of China’s hypersonic missiles arises in part from agenda-driven hysteria – and intended to serve a specific purpose – it reflects the fact that China’s military capabilities will continue to be relentlessly expanded and into new fields of technology. Like even the British Telegraph Admittedly, China produces, in terms of tonnage, the equivalent of a full British Royal Navy every four years. China is even building armed drone ships while construction of its third aircraft carrier is in full swing.

So, in some ways, China’s hypersonic missile test is a rude awakening, even if the US government intentionally leaked the story to the public. Washington has now committed to a long arms battle with Beijing for supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region and, in its arrogance, may have underestimated what China is really capable of in the long run.

Was it really believed that AUKUS would have shifted the balance of power vis-à-vis Beijing? Maybe one should reconsider that.

RT DE strives for a wide range of opinions. Guest contributions and opinion articles do not have to reflect the editorial team’s point of view.

Translated from English.

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations writer and analyst with an emphasis on East Asia. He tweets under @Tom_Fowdy

More on the subject – Beijing denies US reports of Chinese hypersonic weapons test

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