U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made this known in an interview with Fox News, when asked if the test was meant to send a signal to China, Russia, or North Korea.
On Monday, the Pentagon said that on Aug. 18 it tested a conventional ground-launched cruise missile that flew more than 500 kilometers (310 miles), a range banned under the collapsed U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. which Washington exited earlier this month.
“We wanted to make sure that we, as we need to, have the capability to also deter China’s bad behavior by having our own capability to be able to strike it in intermediate ranges,” Esper said.
After being sworn in as the defense secretary in June, Esper went for his first foreign trip to Asia in August.
When asked if he chose Asia for his first trip because he considered China to be the greatest security threat to the U.S., Esper said that China was the number one priority for the Defense Department.
The Pentagon chief also characterised Beijing as Washington’s long-term strategic competitor, saying that the U.S. would not pull out of the region.
“I think in long term, China is a greater challenge, given its economic might, its political weight, and its ambitions,” Ester argued when asked if China or Russia posed a greater threat to his country.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that the U.S. cruise missile test involving a Mark 41 launcher, which violated provisions of the INF Treaty, posed a risk to the global security architecture and might result in a new arms race.
Later on Thursday, the UN Security Council is set to meet for open discussions of the missile test by the U.S. and its potential deployment.
In February, the U.S. formally suspended its INF obligations, triggering a six-month withdrawal process.
In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by signing a decree suspending Moscow’s participation in the accord.
The sides had been accusing each other of violating the treaty
With regard to North Korea, Esper was asked if he trusted the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, who has been engaged in deadlocked talks on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula with U.S. President Donald Trump.
”No … You have to have a verifiable agreement in place, clearly,” the Pentagon chief responded.
When asked if Kim would denuclearize, Esper said that the question should be addressed to experts, suggesting that Pyongyang probably would not abandon its nuclear arsenal.
Speaking about the recent short-range missile tests by North Korea, Esper said that only potential long-range missile tests were a point of concern for the U.S.
Kim and Trump agreed to resume working consultations on the denuclearization as they met in the Korean Demilitarized Zone in late June.
Notably, since late July, Pyongyang carried out a number of weapons tests, which Seoul called the launching of short-range ballistic missiles.
North Korea is prohibited from developing its ballistic missile programme by UNSC resolutions.
(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim)