China Backs Russia in Slamming 'Malicious' U.S. Launch of Missile Banned During Cold War

China has joined Russia in slamming the United States' testing of a class of missile that had been banned until President Donald Trump left a treaty months ago that was forged by Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying reacted Friday to the Pentagon's launch of "a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile" that flew the day before more than 310 miles out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. She said that the test, the second since the Trump administration's exit from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August, belied Washington's true reason for leaving the deal.

"The real aim is to free itself to develop advanced missiles and seek unilateral military advantage," Hua told reporters in Beijing. "The U.S.has been highlighting the so-called Russian violations and Chinese missile threat. These tricks are nothing but clumsy distractions."

"The international community should be clear-eyed on the malicious intention and negative impact of the U.S. withdrawal and tests," she added. "We should work in concert to safeguard the existing international arms control system. We also advise the U.S. to discard its Cold-War and zero-sum game mentality and contribute to global strategic balance and stability and international peace and security."

us ballistic missile launch inf treaty violate
The U.S. Air Force, in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office, conduct a flight test of a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, December 12. The Pentagon said the missile "more than 500 kilometers" in what would have been a violation of the INF Treaty that the Trump administration left in August. Michael Stonecypher/30th Space Wing Public Affairs/U.S. Air Force

The INF is a bilateral pact banning the deployment of nuclear and conventional land-based weapons with ranges between 310 and 3,420 miles. Although China is not a part of the treaty, it has supported it and argued the decades-long agreement was vital for the global non-proliferation regime.

Russia, too, continued to back the INF, but the U.S. accused it of developing a cruise missile system that violated the agreement, and the Pentagon tested its first INF-busting weapon just weeks after walking away from the historic pact. At the time, both Moscow and Beijing warned Washington was trying to spark an "arms race."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also condemned Thursday's launch. "We've said more than once that the United States has been making preparations for violating the INF Treaty. This clearly confirms that the treaty was ruined at the initiative of the United States," he told reporters in Moscow, declining to elaborate on whether Russia possessed a comparable weapon, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

Russian officials have repeatedly denied having broken the INF Treaty, though they have argued the U.S. did so by installing in Romania and Poland the Aegis Ashore defense systems they claim could be reprogrammed to attack as well. As Newsweek confirmed at the time, the U.S. medium-range test utilized a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile fired from a Mark-41 Vertical Launch System—the same model found at the Aegis Ashore sites in Eastern Europe.

Washington's allies within the NATO Western military coalition have blamed Moscow for the collapse of the INF. The defense group reiterated this position last week at its latest top-level gathering in London.

us tomahawk land cruise missile test
The U.S. conducts a test flight of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California, August 18. The weapon, which the Pentagon told Newsweek "was a variant of the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile" using a Mark-41 Vertical Launch System, was said to have flown more than 310 miles, a range once restricted by a deal signed by Washington and Moscow in 1987 and since abandoned by both. Scott Howe/U.S. Department of Defense

"We are addressing and will continue to address in a measured and responsible way Russia's deployment of new intermediate-range missiles, which brought about the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and which pose significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security," the NATO declaration read.

The document also noted "nuclear, conventional, and missile defence capabilities" and added outer space as a new realm of operations, in a move that also drew criticism from Russia. Moscow has called on Washington to focus on saving another longstanding agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which serves as the last remaining arms control measure between the two powers.

The deal is set to expire in February 2021. Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's offer to immediately and unconditionally extend the deal, the Trump administration has yet to formally launch discussions to keep it alive. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and discussed New START, but Pompeo argued a new accord was necessary to include new weapons and other countries, like China, in possession of them.

China, which has far less nuclear weapons than the U.S. and Russia but a sizeable arsenal of medium and intermediate-range missiles, has repeatedly voiced its opposition toward joining any U.S.-Russia arms control agreements such as the INF or New START.