China said it has successfully tested a mid-course anti-missile defence system within its own territory.
The move comes amid tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and China’s own military developments in disputed regional waters.
The defence ministry said Monday’s test achieved its “pre-set goal”.
Mid-course interception involves destroying a ballistic missile while it is flying in space before re-entering the atmosphere.
The defence ministry insisted the test was “defensive and does not target any country”.
China is North Korea’s closest economic and diplomatic partner, but has signed on to increasingly tough United Nations sanctions aimed at curbing the North’s nuclear weapons programme. Despite that, Beijing has opposed the deployment of an advanced US anti-missile system known as THAAD in South Korea, saying it would respond with counter-measures.
China has also rapidly expanded its military presence on man-made islands in the South China Sea, most of which it claims, despite rival claims from other nations. It has also repeatedly sent coast guard vessels into waters controlled by Japan around uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that China also claims as its own.
Given the description, Monday’s test was likely to be of the SC-19 system believed to have been used in knocking out a Chinese satellite in a 2007 test, said Sam Roggeveen, a senior fellow with the Sydney-based Lowy Institute international policy think tank.
However, the exercise may not have included an actual interception utilising the missile’s kill vehicle, but might have simply been a test of the missile’s booster, Mr Roggeveen said. He also warned against assuming that the test was aimed at the US, pointing instead to other regional players.
“This missile system is designed to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles, and Washington does not deploy those in the Asia-Pacific,” Mr Roggeveen said. “On the other hand, both North Korea and India do have such missiles, so this test is more about them.”