10 August 2014
China's development of a long-range missile capable of hitting anywhere in the United States suggests the PLA has made a significant leap in countering American military might through its strategy of "asymmetrical" warfare.
The approach, which has its roots in Sun Tzu's The Art of War, avoids trying to match strength with strength, and instead seeks to create threats that draw an opponent into making a costly response. Amid such calculations, China appears set to introduce the Dongfeng-41, which analysts say will have repercussions at the global and regional levels and alter the US and Japanese military build-up.
"The US will speed up the deployment of its ballistic missile defence systems in the AsiaPacific region after confirming the PLA is continuing to develop the DF-41," said Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong.
"When Washington increases its ballistic missile defence abilities, Beijing will possibly react by strengthening the deployment of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, or even extend the range of the so-called carrier killer."
The development of the DF-41 was disclosed, possibly by accident, by a government environmental monitoring centre in Shaanxi in June. The information was picked up in a report by the state-run Global Times on the anniversary of the formation of the People's Liberation Army on August 1, although it was later removed.
According to industry estimates, the missile is designed to carry up to 10 independent re-entry vehicles each targeting a separate city as far as 12,000km away. The previous model, the DF-31, has an estimated range of 10,000km, putting it within reach of capitals in Europe and the US west coast.
Professor Arthur Ding Shu-fan, secretary general of the Taipei-based Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, said the DF-41 would prompt the Pentagon to work more closely with Japan by strengthening its missile defence systems in the Asia Pacific, and possibly give Tokyo an argument for developing nuclear weapons.
"The upcoming introduction of the DF-41 by the PLA will help [Japanese] Prime Minister Shinzo Abe push his cause to normalise the Japanese army," Ding said.
"Indeed, if collective selfdefence is added to Japan's constitution, Abe's next step might be to develop nuclear weapons. And it's possible that Washington will back Tokyo in developing this capability in a bid to contain a rising China."
Until now, the Pentagon has focused on the threat posed by China's DF-21D missile, which it fears could knock out an aircraft carrier, weakening the US' naval dominance, according to a report published by the Centre for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.
Dr Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the Pentagon had expected China to develop the DF-41 given the technology involved was within China's reach.
"Honestly, multiple independent re-entry vehicles have
always been a worry for [the US'] ballistic missile
defence. It's one of the things that killed
antiballistic-missile defences in the 1970s," Bitzinger
said. But he agreed the US was likely to respond by
speeding up development of its ballistic missile