China deployed its latest and most secretive mobile long range nuclear weapon, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) known as Dongfeng (“East wind”)-41, to northeastern Heilongjiang Province on the border of Russia last week, according to state sources. But the deployment was not as much of a surprise as was the announcement, given that China rarely speaks publicly concerning its nuclear missile program. And yet it shows just how tense relations between the United States and China have become since the election of the new president, Donald Trump. And although some saw the move as a veiled warning to Russia as well, due to Trump’s seemingly cozy relationship with Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin, Russian military experts do not. Despite being only miles away from the Russian border, the nuclear missiles were targeted at the U.S., both figuratively and literally.
According to RT, the Kremlin is of the opinion that the deployment of the Dongfeng-41 ICBMs in Heilongjiang Province was a bit of cleverly spun Chinese disinformation. The Global Times, China’s state-run hardline newspaper, acknowledged that Taiwan and Hong Kong media outlets had run photos of the mobile nuclear missiles and identified the location as Heilongjiang Province. However, nothing has been confirmed by Beijing.
“DF-41 missiles placed near Russia’s border are a smaller threat than if they were placed deeper in the Chinese territory. Such missiles usually have a very large ‘dead zone’ [area within minimal range that cannot be attacked by a weapon],” military analyst Konstantin Sivkov said of the reports, adding that China’s ICBMs would not be able to target Russia’s Far East and most of Eastern Siberia (because they are inside the “dead zone”) from the Heilongjiang Province.
Besides, Russia and China have worked in alliance since the Cold War ended, but became closer in recent years with Russia attempting to meet the economic giant’s demand for energy resources.
China is Russia’s “strategic partner in political and economic senses.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admits. “Certainly, the actions of the Chinese military, if the reports prove correct, the military build-up in China is not perceived as a threat to our country.”
The Dongfeng-41 ICBMs are China’s most classified weapon. Although there are speculated to be three brigades of the weapons ready for deployment throughout China, the government has yet to publicly display the weapon, which, The Global Times wrote, is the most advanced ICBM in the world. The missile has a range of 8,699 miles, which would allow it to hit any target on Earth except for South America and parts of Antarctica. It has a payload capability of up to 12 nuclear warheads, and is constantly mobile, traveling China’s roads to make it difficult to track down and destroy.
Disinformation or actuality, the warning is targeted directly at the United States and the hardline rhetoric that President Donald Trump and his administration continue to send Beijing’s way. If the Dongfeng-41 nuclear missiles have been deployed to northeastern China, it places them closer to the continental U.S., making arrival time slightly less, giving the defenders in the U.S. less time to attempt to take out the incoming warheads.
As Popular Mechanics reported, not only does China have a policy of reticence with regard to its nuclear weapons but it also has a no-first-strike policy, reserving the right to retaliate in kind should the situation ever arise. So, as the magazine pointed out, “…it was probably completely unnecessary to move strategic nuclear weapons through a city of 2.9 million people [Daqing, China, was identified as the Heilongjiang Province city], unless you want to get the word out.”
And since Donald Trump had no problem extolling China’s “unfair” dealings with the U.S. during his campaign, making numerous referrals to the nation as “stealing” jobs or “raping” the American economy, he immediately got on China’s diplomatic bad side when he — some say due to his ignorance of history — accepted a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president when he won the election. He even accused China of stealing an underwater drone in the interim between the election and the inauguration, which garnered him a warning from Beijing that he might want to choose his words more carefully once he became president.
And it hasn’t stopped. As the Telegraph reported hours after the missile deployment made headlines, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, speaking to some man-made, fortified islands the Chinese have built and other territory in the South China Sea China has claimed, that: “If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, yeah, we’ll make sure we defend international interests from being taken over by another country.”
Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, retaliated by stating that negotiations were ongoing with parties involved and noted that the United States was not among them, nor were they part of the issue. She added, “We urge the United States to respect facts and speak and act cautiously to avoid damaging peace and stability in the area.”
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all have rival claims in the South China Sea, where $5 trillion in trade goods pass each year. The Barack Obama administration had remained neutral of the South China Sea issue.
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