US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has said that he doesn’t exclude the deployment of American intermediate range conventional missiles in the Pacific following Washington’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.

Washington is holding consultations with its allies as its moves forward with plans to deploy medium-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region, according to State Department Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Andrea Thompson on 13 August. 

Thompson said that it is up to the regional countries’ governments to decide whether to host such missiles.

“That’s a sovereign decision to be made by the leaders of those governments. Any decision made in the region will be done in consultation with our allies — this is not a US unilateral decision.” said Thompson.

Thompson claimed the US’ recent decision to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty brought a “positive response from partners and allies globally, not only tied to the Indo-Pacific but our NATO partners as well.”

She spoke after US Defence Secretary Mark Esper signalled the Pentagon’s readiness to deploy its intermediate range conventional missiles in the Asia-Pacific region now that the Trump administration has pulled out of the INF Treaty.

“It’s fair to say, though, that we would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later. I would prefer months. I just don’t have the latest state of play on timelines,” Esper said in early August.

Beijing promised to respond in kind to such a scenario, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying warning that “China will not just sit idly by and watch our interests being compromised.”

“What’s more, we will not allow any country to stir up troubles at our doorstep. We will take all necessary measures to safeguard national security interests,” she added.

The remarks followed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ruling out his country hosting US intermediate missile bases.

On 2 August, the US formally withdrew from the INF Treaty, citing alleged Russian violations of the treaty. Moscow has insisted that its missiles complied with the accord.

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty required that the two countries eliminate and permanently refrain from the development of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (310 to 3,417 miles).

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