China 'conducts fourth hypersonic missile test' as tensions with US mount over contested South China Sea islands

The weapon travels at up to 10 times the speed of sound

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The Independent Online

China conducted its fourth hypersonic missile test last week, according to reports, in a move that has been dubbed an “extreme manoeuvre” by the US.

The Washington Free Beacon has reported that China’s defence ministry confirmed on Friday that it had carried out a fourth test of a new hypersonic strike vehicle last week.

“The scheduled scientific research and experiments in our territory are normal, and those tests are not targeted at any country and specific goals,” the ministry told the publication.

The US Pentagon has called the hypersonic glide vehicle ‘Wu-14’ - which can reportedly travel up to 10 times the speed of sound - and said last week’s test carried out in Western China involved “extreme manoeuvres” from the weapon.

A hypersonic weapon could look similar to this Falcon HTV-2

The South China Morning Post reported that the test was the fourth to be carried out in the space of 18 months, and took place the day before China’s central military commission vice-chairman Fan Changlong embarked on a visit to the US.

He is expected to have discussed concerns over the disputed islands in the South China Sea with US defence secretary Ash Carter, according to state media.

Tensions have been rising between the US and China over the contested islands, and a defence policy specialist told the South China Morning Post the test was likely a response to the US publicising a surveillance flight over the area last month.

Professor He Qisong, at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told the newspaper: “The Wu14… is designed to penetrate US missile defence systems, meaning the People’s Liberation Army is capable of defending China’s territorial sovereignty.

“But such a test is only a nuclear deterrence. Neither China nor the US wants to declare war over the South China Sea issues,” he said.