China has apparently fired an intercontinental ballistic missile into the South China Sea, a provocative weapon test that-contrary to official statements-was likely meant to send a message to the United States and its neighbors in the region.
News of the test, which was carried out on April 12th, had been leaked to theWashington Free Beacon. On April 19th, the Beaconreported that two warheads carried by the missile had been tracked by U.S. satellites and regional sensors.
The Dong Feng ("East Wind")-41 missile is China's latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The DF-41 can carry a single 1-megaton thermonuclear warhead or up to 10 smaller nuclear warheads. A three stage, solid fuel rocket, DF-41 reportedly has a range of 7,400 to 9,300 miles-making it the first Chinese missile with enough range to reach all of the continental United States.
The curious-and provocative-aspect of this test was the aiming point for the missile. Typically, Chinese missiles are launched from central China and sent westward. This time, the missile was aimed south at the South China Sea. This may be the first time China has launched an ICBM into the South China Sea.
China claims that allegations the warheads landed in the South China Sea are "pure conjecture", only saying that the missile was tested near the Sea. However, China also said that it had every right to conduct such tests within Chinese territory-a given unless that territory were in some way contested by others. China claims roughly ninety percent of the South China Sea, but some of that territory is also claimed by other countries.
China's territorial claims in the South China Sea have generated tension with many of its neighbors, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, and is being actively opposed by the United States, Australia, and Japan. China claimed the test was not aimed at "any specific country or target".