- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed that China’s military launched a salvo of medium-range ballistic missiles tests into the contested waters of the South China Sea.

DoD can confirm that the Chinese military launched four medium-range missiles Wednesday from mainland China,” a defense official said.”The missiles impacted in the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands,” the official added. “The launch appears to have been part of a previously announced exercise.”

No additional details were available.

Earlier, a U.S. official confirmed Chinese press reports that the missile salvo included a DF-26 intermediate-range anti-ship ballistic missile and a DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile fired from mainland China during exercises in the South China Sea. The anti-ship missiles have been dubbed “aircraft carrier killers” because of their unique ability to strike moving targets at sea.

The Navy in July conducted military exercises in the South China Sea with two aircraft carrier strike groups headed by the USS Nimitz and the USS Reagan.

The missile test firings of anti-ship ballistic missiles appear to be China’s response to the carrier operations.

China is claiming some 90 percent of the South China Sea as its sovereign maritime territory. The Trump administration in recent weeks has begun aggressively pushing back against those claims declaring that the waterway is free and open international waters.

The administration on Wednesday announced it is imposing sanctions on Chinese companies involved in militarizing disputed islands in the South China Sea and also restricting visas for Chinese company officials involved in the island military buildup.

Since around 2012, China has built up an estimated 3,200 acres of disputed islands and began deploying anti-ship missiles and anti-aircraft missiles and electronic warfare gear in 2018.

The military deployments were made despite a promise from Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 that China would not militarize the disputed islands.

“The United States, China’s neighbors, and the international community have rebuked [China’s] sovereignty claims to the South China Sea and have condemned the building of artificial islands for the Chinese military,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “The entities designated today have played a significant role in China’s provocative construction of these artificial islands and must be held accountable.”

The South China Morning Post reported that the DF-26 was launched from Qinghai on Tuesday, citing a source close to the Chinese military. A U.S. official confirmed that missile test was carried out and called it provocative but provided no details.

Two U.S. aircraft carriers recently conducted exercises in the South China Sea, challenging China’s claims to maritime sovereignty over some 90% of the sea. The Trump administration has been pushing back hard against Chinese sovereignty claims through both diplomacy, economic sanctions and stepped-up military and naval operations.

China a day earlier had protested the overflight of a U.S. U-2 reconnaissance aircraft that Beijing claimed violated a no-fly zone during naval exercises in the Bohai Sea in northern China. The DF-26 was launched from a missile base in northwestern China and the DF-21D was fired from Zhejiangprovince in the eastern part of the country. Both missiles are believed to be able to carry both nuclear and conventional warheads.

The South China Morning Post quoted the military source as saying the missile firings were intended to improve the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to deny access to the sea.

“This is China’s response to the potential risks brought by the increasingly frequent incoming U.S. warplanes and military vessels in the South China Sea,” the source told the newspaper. “China doesn’t want the neighboring countries to misunderstand Beijing’s goals.”

Mr. Pompeo said the visa restrictions targeted Chinese nationals linked to the South China Sea militarization effort.

“These individuals will now be inadmissible into the United States, and their immediate family members may be subject to these visa restrictions as well,” he said.One of the Chinese companies hit with sanctions, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), has led dredging efforts that built up islands.

A senior State Department official said the sanctions reflect a new U.S. policy announced last month aimed at pushing back against China’s expansive maritime claims, citing what he called “our deep concern over the increasingly brazen manner in which Beijing has deployed coercive tactics to inhibit other claimants’ access to offshore marine resources.” Regional states, including Vietnam and the Philippines, are challenging China’s maritime claims. The official said China’s increased use of maritime militia and civilian law enforcement vessels in the sea to intimidate regional states is “provocative and destabilizing.”

“Beijing’s state-owned enterprises have played a key role in building and militarizing these outposts,” the official said. “The U.S. firmly opposes these efforts, and we are taking actions to make clear that further militarization and further coercion is unacceptable and entirely contrary to the interests of China’s neighbors and the United States and the world.”

The visa restrictions were imposed on dozens of Chinese nationals from state-owned companies involved in island reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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