'Chinese missiles can reach West Pacific'

WASHINGTON • China deployed new ballistic missiles last year capable of delivering nuclear warheads to ground targets in the Western Pacific, the Pentagon has said.

The Dongfeng-26 rockets could also be used for conventional strikes against ships in the region, the US Department of Defence said in its annual report on China's military.

The deployment has been anticipated since at least September, when the intermediate-range missiles were displayed during a military parade hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The weapons represent China's latest strategic advancement after two decades of budget increases that turned it into the world's second-largest military spender.

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The modernisation drive, which has focused on expanding China's air and naval reach, is challenging more than 70 years of US military dominance in the Western Pacific.

Last year, Mr Xi also began a structural overhaul of the military that saw the elevation of China's rocket force to a branch equal with the army, navy and air force.

The DF-26 joins an arsenal that includes DF-21 "carrier killer" missiles.

The report confirmed China's Jin-class submarines are now equipped with submarine-launched JL-2 ballistic missiles, boosting its sea-based nuclear deterrence.

The Pentagon has been predicting since at least 2014 that China would carry out patrols of the submarines with the missiles onboard.

The report also noted several security developments regarding China, including cooling ties with Taiwan, drone sales to Pakistan, the construction of a military base in Djibouti in Africa and the continued use of "low-intensity coercion" tactics in the disputed South China Sea.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline ''Chinese missiles can reach West Pacific''. Print Edition | Subscribe