New Chinese missile should prompt Australia into action | Asia Pacific

New Chinese missile should prompt Australia into action

New Chinese missile should prompt Australia into action

Updated 6 August 2014, 17:22 AEST

China has said it's developing a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads as far as the United States.

The Global Times reported last Friday that a military facility in Shaanxi province was developing Dongfeng-41 ballistic missiles with a range of 12-thousand kilometres.

However, the article was withdrawn a short time after it appeared.

China has not previously acknowledged the missiles' existence, although the US Defence Department believes the Chinese have had the technology for a decade.

Professor Richard Tanter at the Nautilus Security Institute told Australia should respond by supporting nuclear disarmament.

Correspondent: Karon Snowdon

Speakers: Professor Richard Tanter, Senior Research Associate at the Nautilus Security Institute and Melbourne University

 

TANTER: I think Australia should have a very strong interest in serious disarmament and issues of this area. 
 
We have obviously a complicated relationship with China, because of our alliance relationship with the United States, but it's in our interest that northeast Asia should not become a nuclear cockpit, it's in our interest to save China, we don't think that you should develop this into a production line missile system. 
 
But equally I think it's important for Australia to pull back from its enthusiasm for the United States missile defence system in which we participate, for example, through the joint defence facility at Pine Gap and look carefully at what we are doing that maybe perhaps inadvertently, perhaps consciously, accelerating this arms race.
 
SNOWDON: What are we to make of China's admission that it has developed this new DF41, which is a multiple nuclear warhead missile?
 
TANTER: It's important for a number of reasons. 
 
In terms of the nuclear arms race, any new big weapons are a problem. What this indicates is that China now has the technology or technological ability to develop, not just a missile with multiple warheads on top of it, but multiple warheads which can be independently targetted. In other words, you can have ten or a dozen warheads on a missile, send one towards one city, another towards another and so forth. 
 
I should say that the United States and Russia have had this technology for about 30 years and virtually all ICBMs are (inaudible) as they say.
 
SNOWDON: Yes, and the US though is likely to take notice of this isn't it, given that they have a range of 12-thousand kilometres, which would reach the US?
 
TANTER: Yes, China already has about forty to sixty of its 250 odd large nuclear tip missiles could reach the United States already. And it would certainly be true that if the second artillery of the People's Liberation Army did develop units with these Dongfeng-41 missiles, then that would increase the number capable of reaching the United States.
 
We don't know whether one has been made in production or whether, is if you like, a first prototype and there's certainly no indication at the moment that China is developing a production run of these at the moment.
 
SNOWDON: However, as you've pointed out, China has about 250 nuclear warheads, but that does compare with the US, which has over 2-thousand and Russia which has about four-and-a-half thousand is the estimate. Are we seeing an interest from China in building a force, a deterrent force or something, to counter perhaps what it sees as a possible threat?
 
TANTER: China has had a remarkably consistent policy, going back to its very first development of nuclear weapons in 1964, at the height of the Cold War, at a time when it was beginning to worry as much about the Soviet Union as about the United States. 
 
It's been very restrained in the weapons it's developed and this is not because they're particularly nice about the world, but rather they saw the Soviet Union going down a path they thought was destructive for them, in an arms race with the United States that they couldn't possibly win. 
 
And they also seem today, that at the end of Cold War, there is still a kind of arms race going on, but really the United States is so far in front, that really China needs to think carefully about what it's doing. 
 
And it's not going into the arms race, but it's basically showing the United States. Look, we actually can do this. Do you really want to pursue the policies which are taking us in this direction?
 
SNOWDON: Is there a need for some form of arms control talks as there have been in the past with say, the US and Russia. Do we see a time when there's a need to revive something like this?
 
TANTER: Yes, I think so. Certainly, the US-Russia arms control talks have not gone anywhere fast. 
 
The Chinese take the point of view that yes, they support nuclear disarmament and they're probably serious about that, in the sense that they see the destructiveness of it. They also make the point that until the United States and Russia, which between them, have something like 19-thousand strategic warheads, China's really not in that game. 
Now my own feeling is that China should be pressed harder about that, they should be asked about disarmament and this is an occasion to do it.
 
On the other hand, the Chinese would quite rightly say that one reason that they have developed this DongFeng-41 is a response to what the United States has been doing for the last 15 years in the Pacific and East Asia, in developing missile defence, particularly with Japan. 
 
And it's been pointed out almost two decades, the Chinese have said, if you continue to develop this missile development system, sooner or later you'll get it to the point where it can effectively negate our own deterrence capacity. We couldn't get past your missile defence and that would leave us quite vulnerable to an American first strike and the logical technological response to that, is to develop more sophisticated missiles and that's what they've done. They've shown that they can do it.
 

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