A QUIET battle lingering over the South China Sea just got a whole lot more dangerous after reports China tested hypersonic glide vehicles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The vehicle, dubbed the WU-14, was the fourth test of the missile in 18 months, RT News reports.
The weapon is extremely advanced and can travel at 10 times the speed of sound.
And it’s ticking off the Americans.
The US has labelled the testing as an “extreme manoeuvre” amid tensions in the South China Sea, theSouth China Morning Post reports.
But China has been quick to dismiss any suggestion the tests were anything other than a normal exercise.
“The scheduled scientific research and experiments in our territory is normal, and those tests are not targeted at any country and specific goals,” the ministry told the Post.
Tensions between the two military superpowers have been increasing due to a cluster of tiny islands in the South China Sea.
And the US and China have been doing a lot of peacocking about them.
US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter has previously warned the US would not shy away from confronting Beijing about the continued expansion.
The problem is also placing Australia in an awkward position over who it would be better off being best buddies with.
The tiny man-made islands popping up in the South China Sea have been dubbed a “flashpoint” of war due to the land grab they inspire.
The Chinese have used dredging engineering to create the islands from what were previously reefs — and it claims it has the sovereign right to do this, despite some of them being 1400km from China’s mainland or on the continental shelfs of the Philippines and Vietnam.
Militarisation of those islands could very well result in conflict between China and US, which runs its ships through the area.
That would drag Australia firmly into the war muck — Australia needs China for trade, but the US is one of its closest defence allies.
As well as US military interests in the area, countries including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have a stake in the region.
As each island appears, China stakes a claim in the sea around it and this is the crux of the issue for China’s neighbours.
About 1500 hectares of land has been reclaimed by the Chinese. It gives the country another 12 nautical miles of territory at each new border, and also creates 200 extra miles of economic zones to dig for oil, gas and to fish in.
The deputy dean of global studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Professor Joseph Siracussa, told news.com.au that the two nations were “spoiling for a fight”.
Despite the economic ties between China and the global economy, he said it wouldn’t stop a war.
“Economics mean very little at the end of the day,” said Prof Siracussa, who is an expert in human security and international diplomacy.
“Once you militarise a problem, you don’t get a diplomatic solution.
“The [US] Secretary of Defence’s job is to think about the next war and how to beat them up.
“The trigger is there, it’s just waiting to happen,” he said.
During a “Re-assessing the Global Nuclear Order” conference in January, Prof Siracussa said discussions about “inevitable” war between the US and China were quite open and on the table.
“They were discussing the inevitable war with China,” he said.
“This will happen. This is about power.
“The American pentagon is on a collision course with China.
“So the South China Sea has become a flashpoint for war.”
China also had a grand military plan in place, he said, which included claiming the land, and blocking the US military.
“The Chinese need resources to feed the ‘Chinese miracle’. They see it as part of their manifesto of destiny,” he said.
“Those resources are central to the health of China.”
So who would fire the first shot? America, “if things spin out of control”, Prof Siracussa said.
“I’d say the war with China will probably take place in the next 10 years,” he said.
A statement issued on the US Department of Defense website said Mr Carter’s had met with the China’s vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Fan Changlong, at the Pentagon last week.
“Secretary Carter stressed his commitment to developing a sustained and substantive US-China military-to-military relationship based on a shared desire to deepen practical, concrete cooperation in areas of mutual interest,” the statement said.
The pair also exchanged views over concerns in the South China Sea and called on China and to “implement a lasting halt on land reclamation, cease further militarisation, and pursue a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in accordance with international law”.
Cold War thinking
Prof Siracussa said the world was watching this issue and, as a result, other countries could very well be stockpiling weapons in preparation for a war.
That theory is backed up by a new report on nuclear stockpiles.
Nuclear armed states continue to upgrade their stockpiles despite an international trend towards disarmament, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s annual disarmament report revealed.
It pointed to extensive “long-term modernisation programs” in the world’s two largest nuclear powers — the US and Russia — which account for 90 per cent of the weapons.
“Despite renewed international interest in prioritising nuclear disarmament, the modernisation programs under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states suggests that none of them will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future,” institute researcher Shannon Kile said in a statement.
The other three nuclear armed states legally recognised by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — China (260 warheads), France (300 warheads) and Britain (215 warheads) — are “either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so”.
China was the only state among the five global nuclear powers to have a “modest” increase in the size of its arsenal.
While the remaining nuclear states — India (90 to 100 warheads), Pakistan (100 to 120 warheads) and Israel (80 warheads) — have considerably smaller stockpiles, India and Pakistan continue to increase their arsenals, while Israel has tested long-range ballistic missiles.
North Korea is believed to be developing its arsenal of six to eight warheads, but the institute said “technical progress” was difficult to assess.
Reliable information on nuclear stockpiles varied greatly between states, with the US getting top marks for transparency in the report, while Britain and France were more restrictive.
Russia divulged nothing officially, except in bilateral contacts with the US.
In Asia, China revealed little about its arsenal and the only information made public by nuclear rivals India and Pakistan was announcements of missile tests.
The five nuclear powers and members of the UN Security Council — US, Russia, China, Britain and France — along with Germany, are in ongoing talks with Iran to persuade the Islamic Republic not to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Between 2010 and 2015 the number of warheads fell from 22,600 to 15,850, the report said.