WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said on Wednesday that China test-fired a next- generation anti-ship missile this week from one of the disputed islands it occupies in the South China Sea.
The missile was fired from the Spratly Islands after China issued a warning to mariners that it would be conducting military exercises in the region until today. It also issued a warning telling aircraft to avoid off a stretch of airspace southeast of Hainan Island.
The launch occurred on Sunday and others are expected, officials said Wednesday. Published reports in Asia suggested the test was to inaugurate a new base of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force in the region.
China did not confirm the test but said it was holding military drills between the Spratly and Paracel Islands starting last weekend and ending on Wednesday.
Development of the anti-ship missile would be a significant breakthrough for Beijing and a boost to its defenses against any attempt by other nations to wrest control of the contested islands militarily.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and Japan’s JS Izumo helicopter carrier just conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.
“Of course the Pentagon was aware of the Chinese missile launch from the man-made structures in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands. What’s truly disturbing about this act is that it’s in direct contradiction to President Xi’s statement in the rose garden in 2015 when he pledged to the U.S., the Asia-Pacific region, and the world, that he would not militarize those man-made outposts,” Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesperson, told TMN in an email.
“I’m not going to speak on behalf of all the sovereign nations in the region, but I’m sure they agree that the PRC’s behavior is contrary to its claim to want to bring peace to the region and obviously actions like this are coercive acts meant to intimidate other SCS claimants.”