Issue Brief on “Contextualising China’s Missile Defence Developments”

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On June 19, 2022, China successfully conducted an anti-ballistic missile test. The Chinese Defence Ministry said that it was a land-based mid-course missile, which was part of the country’s efforts to strengthen its defensive capabilities. The Defence Ministry stated that “This test was defensive and not aimed at any country.”[1] This is the sixth such test China has conducted in the last decade or so. It is important to look at what missile defence system China is developing. What are the drivers behind China’s pursuit of missile defence capability and what are its implications?

Many states have pursued missile defence systems since the US withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.[2] Both Russia and China repeatedly expressed concerns over the US pursuit of missile defence. However, the US has not been interested in limiting its missile defence capabilities or addressing Russian and Chinese concerns. Thus, Russia has been developing offensive missiles and hypersonic missiles that can defeat BMD systems. China has also been working on missile defence systems as well as upgrading its missile forces. It seems China is planning to build a multilayered missile defence system. With increased tensions with the US in the last few years, China fears that the US could launch the first strike on its limited nuclear arsenal and absorb any counter Chinese attack through its missile defence capabilities.[3]

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