China Launches 4 Missiles into South China Sea
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Aug 27, 2020)
China has developed two types of ballistic missiles that are reportedly tasked with engaging US Navy aircraft carriers, the DF-21 (pictured) and the DF-26; it is unclear which were fired Wednesday during Chinese naval exercises in the South China Sea. (China MoD file photo)
WASHINGTON --- Beijing has fired missiles into the disputed waters of the South China Sea, escalating U.S.-China tensions amid U.S. sanctions aimed at punishing companies that helped bolster China's continued militarization of the region. 

A U.S. defense official told VOA on Thursday the People's Liberation Army (PLA) launched four medium-range ballistic missiles from mainland China into an area of the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands. 

The missile launches on Wednesday came amid recent Chinese military exercises, which unilaterally closed off large areas of the sea contested by several claimants. Vietnam has protested the exercises. 

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the recent Chinese military exercise "speaks volumes" about how the PLA views areas protected as free for passage under international law. 

Navy Capt. John Gay, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the United States currently has 38 ships in the Indo-Pacific region and will continue to monitor activities, including the most recent Chinese military exercises.

The Pentagon issued a statement of concern Thursday, saying China's actions "stand in contrast to its pledge to not militarize the South China Sea and are in contrast to the United States' vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms."

"The PRC [People's Republic of China] chose to escalate its exercise activities by firing ballistic missiles. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and not undertake military activities that could threaten freedom of navigation and aggravate disputes in the South China Sea," the Pentagon added.

South China Sea

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian told news media Thursday the U.S. has "continued to provoke tensions and undermine China's sovereignty and security." He added that current diplomatic relations between the two countries have been "severely damaged."

China has made expansive claims over the South China Sea, basing military weapons and aircraft on artificial islands built atop reefs to bolster its territorial claims, which overlap with the territorial claims of other nations.  

The United States frequently conducts freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to dispute Beijing's claims and promote free passage through international waters that carry about half the world's merchant fleet tonnage, worth trillions of dollars each year.  

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper early Thursday warned  that the world's "free and open" system forged in the wake of World War II was under attack by what he called China's "rule-breaking behavior" in the Indo-Pacific region.  

Esper spoke in Hawaii, home to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, ahead of travel to Guam and Palau to take part in ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.  

Esper called the Indo-Pacific region the "epicenter" of great power competition, vowing not to "cede an inch" to countries that threaten international freedoms, in an apparent dig at China.  

On Wednesday, the U.S. imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese companies and several people who allegedly participated in building and militarizing disputed artificial islands in the South China Sea. The move is widely viewed as pushback against what the U.S. sees as an intensifying Chinese campaign to dominate the resource-rich sea and bully smaller nations in the region. 

The U.S. Commerce Department said in a statement the companies played a "role in helping the Chinese military" with the construction project, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate announcement that Washington was placing visa restrictions on individuals "responsible" or "complicit" in the project.    

"Since 2013, the PRC (People's Republic of China) has used its state-owned enterprises to dredge and reclaim more than 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) on disputed features in the South China Sea, destabilizing the region, trampling on the sovereign rights of its neighbors, and causing untold environmental devastation," Pompeo said.     

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DOD Statement on Recent Chinese Ballistic Missile Launches
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Aug. 27, 2020)
“The Department of Defense is concerned about the People’s Republic of China (PRC) recent decision to conduct military exercises, including the firing of ballistic missiles, around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on August 23-29.

Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability. The PRC’s actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea.

Such exercises also violate PRC commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and call into question its motivations with ongoing negotiations for a Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN.

This military exercise is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea. The PRC’s actions stand in contrast to its pledge to not militarize the South China Sea and are in contrast to the United States' vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.

The Department of Defense alerted the PRC in July that would continue to monitor the situation with the expectation that the PRC will reduce its militarization and coercion of its neighbors in the South China Sea. The PRC chose to escalate its exercise activities by firing ballistic missiles.

We urge all parties to exercise restraint and not undertake military activities that could threaten freedom of navigation and aggravate disputes in the South China Sea.”

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Reported PLA Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Launches 'Show Saturated Attack Capability'
(Source: Global Times; published Aug. 28, 2020)
The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Wednesday launched multiple anti-ship ballistic missiles into the South China Sea in a military exercise, overseas media reported. The missile launches, if true, demonstrated the PLA's ability to hit maritime targets with powerful ballistic missiles from multiple directions in coordinated, saturated attacks against which there is no defense, analysts said on Thursday.

US media outlet Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing an anonymous US defense official, that China launched four medium-range ballistic missiles into the South China Sea.

As a part of broader military exercises, the missiles landed in the sea in an area between South China's Hainan Island and the Xisha Islands, according to the report.

The PLA exercises are being held in the waters from Monday to Saturday, according to a navigation restriction notice released by the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration on Friday, which did not provide further details regarding the drills.

Citing an anonymous source "close to the Chinese military," the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post claimed that China launched a DF-26 missile from Northwest China's Qinghai Province and a DF-21D missile from East China's Zhejiang Province into the South China Sea on Wednesday morning.

The PLA had not confirmed the launches as of press time.

China's DF-26 and DF-21D are the world's first ballistic missiles capable of targeting large and medium-sized vessels, earning them the title of "aircraft carrier killers," military observers said.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Thursday that using different missiles launched from different regions in attacking targets in the same area showed the PLA tactic of saturated attack.

China can use different ways to attack one or more targets at the same time, so the enemy will not be able to intercept these attacks, Song said, noting that despite US aircraft carriers' air defense capability, they cannot defend themselves against ballistic missiles.

A Beijing-based military expert told the Global Times on Thursday on condition of anonymity that the coordinated attack also showed China has a complete system to detect, track and lock on enemy ships. The system, which possibly consists of reconnaissance aircraft, radar, satellites and warships among others, can direct and coordinate missiles to find moving maritime targets, so they can adjust their trajectories when initiating the final attacks after re-entry.

On Wednesday morning, the time of the reported missile launches, the US sent an RC-135S ballistic missile-detection plane to the South China Sea. Chinese military analysts speculated that the US believed the PLA would launch anti-ship ballistic missiles like the DF-21D or the DF-26 in the drills.

Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times at that time that China is the only country that has the technology to develop anti-ship ballistic missiles, and the US is eager to learn about China's methods.

Some of the reports hyped the "China threat" in the South China Sea, but it is the US that has sent aircraft carriers and spy planes to the region, which brings instability, analysts noted.

In July, a US dual aircraft carrier strike group featuring the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Nimitz conducted exercises in the South China Sea. The USS Ronald Reagan again entered the South China Sea on August 14 after sailing in the East China Sea near the island of Taiwan, according to the monitoring of Beijing-based think tank the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative.

The US has also frequently sent spy planes near China for close-up reconnaissance.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said at a regular press conference on Thursday that recent Chinese military exercises are routine and not targeted at any country.

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