China announced Tuesday that its rocket force has conducted weapons tests and live fire drills near the Korean Peninsula “in recent days,” according to a statement on the Defense Ministry’s website. The announcement comes as North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs continue to stoke tensions in the region and across the Pacific.
A new guided missile was successfully tested in the Bohai Sea by the People’s Liberation Army’s Rocket Force, in what the statement said is an effort to increase the service’s ability to effectively deal with security threats.
Without offering many details, China’s Xinhua news agency reported that “The test achieved the expected result.”
In late April, Beijing foreshadowed its plans to conduct these drills in protest of the US’ deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. China feels the system will inflame tensions in the region, and experts say Beijing is concerned that the system’s X-Brand radar could be used to spy on the country’s military activity. Washington maintains that THAAD’s sole purpose is to counter possible aggression from Pyongyang.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing in early March, “I want to emphasize that we firmly oppose the deployment of THAAD… We will resolutely take necessary measures to defend our security interests. All consequences entailed from this will be borne by the US and [South Korea].”
The US has been pushing China to take a more aggressive stance on the North Korean issue, but Beijing hasn’t engaged the kind of military rhetoric used by Washington, opting instead to call for a diplomatic resolution.
After the US flew B-1B strategic bombers over the Korean Peninsula, Geng told the two powers to “stop irritating each other.” Pyongyang has accused Beijing of betrayal for complying with UN sanctions against them.
A North Korean citizen identified as Kim Chol warned, “China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]-China relations,” in a commentary published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Beijing’s weapons tests are also a part of a military modernization campaign being overseen by President Xi Jinping, as the country seeks to further assert itself regarding its contested claims in the South China Sea.