The US envoy for disarmament told reporters in Geneva that America does not yet have the capability to defend against hypersonic weapons following a news report claiming that China had tested such a weapon.
Robert Wood spoke to journalists following a report from the Financial Times on Monday, citing five unnamed sources, claiming that China’s government had successfully tested a nuclear-capable missile with the ability to travel faster than the speed of sound.
That report was denied by Beijing, which claimed that the reported launch was actually a spacecraft.
"We have concerns about what China is doing on hypersonic," Mr Wood told reporters.
"We just don't know how we can defend against that type of technology,” he continued, before clarifying: “[N]either does China or Russia.”
The Financial Times reported over the weekend that the supposed test of a hypersonic missile had occurred in August, and resulted in mixed success; the missile supposedly launched successfully, but missed its target by a far distance of nearly 25 miles.
Beijing officials explained on Monday that it had carried out a test of a space vehicle in July, declaring: "It was not a missile, it was a space vehicle”, according to the Jerusalem Post.
“As we understand, this was a routine test of space vehicle to verify technology of spacecraft's reusability. It is of great significance to reducing the cost of using space vehicle and providing a convenient and cheap way for mankind's two-way transportation in the peaceful use of space. Several companies around the world have conducted similar tests,” added a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry during a press conference.
“After separating from the space vehicle before its return, the supporting devices will burn up when it's falling in the atmosphere and the debris will fall into the high seas. China will work with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space for the benefit of mankind,” Beijing’s spokesperson continued.
Mr Wood added in his own comments that both Russia and China were “very actively” pursuing the militarisation of hypersonic weapons, and explained that their eventual use could have significant consequences for US defences going forward.
"Hypersonic technology is something that we have been concerned about, the potential military applications of it and we have held back from pursuing military applications for this technology," he said, according to the Post.
"But we have seen China and Russia pursuing very actively the use, the militarisation of this technology so we are just having to respond in kind,” he continued, adding: “We just don't know how we can defend against that technology, neither does China, neither does Russia."
The Biden administration has largely continued a policy of challenging China’s military that has been followed by US administrations for years, including indicating tacit support for the independent government of Taiwan and sailing US naval vessels through the contested Taiwan Strait.
Those missions frequently evoke angry responses from Beijing and the Chinese foreign ministry, while top Taiwanese officials are publicly showing increasing concern about Beijing’s military posture towards the contested island, which is self-governing but claimed by China as its territory.
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