|MICHAEL STONECYPHER/30TH SPACE WING PUBLIC AFFAIRS|
China has said it would respond if the United States deployed intermediate-range missiles to the Asia-Pacific region and warned U.S. allies not to accept such weapons.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Senior Colonel Wu Qian told a press briefing Wednesday in Beijing that "China is firmly opposed to the deployment of intermediate-range missiles by the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region." The Pentagon was long barred from deploying such weapons as a result of a 1987 treaty with Russia but President Donald Trump's administration left the deal last August and has since signaled a willingness to confront China, and China has threatened to retaliate.
"If the U.S. insists on the deployment, it will be a provocation at China's doorstep. China will never sit idle and will take all necessary countermeasures," Wu told reporters.
The latest warning came as Japan, close U.S. ally, considered reshaping its own defense policy amid tensions in the region. Wu warned Tokyo not to deploy such weapons at Washington's behest.
"At the same time, China hopes that Japan and other countries concerned can act cautiously with the big picture of regional peace and stability in mind, and should not allow the U.S. to deploy medium-range missiles on their territories, so as not to fall victim to Washington's geopolitical ploys," he added.
Shortly after the U.S. exit from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that banned Washington and Moscow from fielding land-launched missiles ranging from 310 to 3,420 miles, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told journalists in August 2019 he "would like to" deploy such weapons in Asia. Two weeks later, the U.S. tested a cruise missile that exceeded 310 miles in California.
The Pentagon conducted a second test topping this range two months later, sending a ballistic missile out of the same West Coast testing range in another move that sparked anger from both Beijing and Moscow. While China viewed U.S. military moves in the region as a major threat, Washington saw Beijing as a destabilizing player.
"The Chinese Communist Party is behaving in ways that fundamentally put the American people's security at risk," Pompeo tweeted Wednesday, adding that the Trump administration "is the first in decades to take this threat seriously."
U.S. allies, however, have also expressed uncertainty about the prospect of intermediate-range missiles being deployed on their territory. Australia and South Korea have already said they would not host such weapons, while Japanese officials appeared to be more divided on the matter.
A Japanese Defense Ministry official told Newsweek in September that there were "no detailed talks about the future deployment of U.S. missiles systems in Japan," though the official acknowledged this could change. Japanese Defense Minister Kono Taro offered a similar analysis the following month.
But on Wednesday, Japan's Jiji Press outlet reported that the country's National Security Council had convened in order to review the country's defense policy, which has evolved to include more allowances for offensive measures under Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. The meeting came shortly after Defense Minister Kono Taro announced that Japan would be suspending its plans to acquire the U.S.-built Aegis Ashore missile defense system and began sea trials for its new Maya-class destroyer with anti-missile capabilities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said he took note of this meeting at a separate press briefing Wednesday. He alluded to Japan's World War II history and urged Tokyo to stray from restraints on its armed forces.
"Due to historical reasons, developments in Japan's military security have been closely followed by its Asian neighbors and the international community," Zhao told reporters. "Some in Japan have long been hyping up so-called 'external threats' in order to free itself under various pretexts and achieve some breakthroughs in its military security policies."
"However, this intention has been seen through by the world," he added. "We urge Japan to draw lessons from history, faithfully implement its 'exclusively defense-oriented policy,' and stay committed to peaceful development by taking real actions."
While ties between China and Japan have improved in recent years, with Chinese President Xi Jinping even set to visit on a trip since postponed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, tensions remain between the two nations. Chinese vessels have sailed near the disputed, Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands—known to China as the Diaoyu Islands—in the East China Sea or some 71 consecutive days and Taro took the rare step recently of publicly identifying what he said was a Chinese submarine spotted outside of Japanese waters northeast of Kagoshima province's Amami-Oshima Island.