Some reports said the test was conducted near South China Sea (SCS) although the Ministry of Defence dismissed it saying “the so-called test location reported by the media is pure conjecture.” A test in the South China Sea could be considered a lot more provocative. However, China has done other provocative actions in the SCS without adequate response from any of the major powers.
This latest test was possibly the seventh time China is testing the DF-41 missile. This missile has longer range than the only surviving US ICBM, the Minuteman 3. The DF-41 has an operational range of 12,000-15,000 km as against the 13,000 km range of the Minuteman missile. There are also reports that suggest that China has been upgrading the older single warhead DF-5 missiles with MIRVs. One important point to note here is that the US prefers to base its missiles at sea (Trident II) unlike China which largely bases its strategic arsenals on land-based missiles.
These developments are taking place against the backdrop of increasing tension between the US and China in the SCS, which has been the result of an increasingly belligerent China. Chinese actions on the SCS, East China Sea and the Sino-Indian border, its declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea along with an increase in close proximity activities on the air and maritime front have pushed Chinese neighbours to pursue external balancing while beefing up their own defensive capabilities. The timing of these tests are also interesting. Only a few days ago, one of the Vice Chairmen of China’s Central Military Commission, Gen. Fan Changlong, had travelled to the Fiery Cross Reef while the US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, had visited the aircraft carrier USS Stennis as it sailed to South China Sea just three days prior to the test.