At a time when China's relations with the rest of the world are characterized by growing tension – the United States, India, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom – nowhere is this as intense as on each side of the 130 kilometers of water that separate Taiwan from the mainland. After last week the island received the largest US diplomatic visit in four decades, China is pulling out military muscle in the form of a missile.
The Tianlei 500 was the protagonist of the latest edition, broadcast last Friday, of a program specialized in defense of the canal CCTV-7. To this name, which can be translated as Thunder from the Sky, responds a missile of half a ton of weight and 60 kilometers of range recently designed by the arms firm China North Industries Group (Norinco). Unlike conventional models, the Tianlei 500 employs a laser guide and is capable of disseminating submunitions in the air, giving it greater range and allowing it to attack different points at the same time.
"It can transport up to 240 submunitions that when dispersed can spread over an area of more than six square kilometers," explained a Norinco engineer during the report. The expert also detailed how the missile is designed to attack airport runways, airplanes on the runway, electrical installations and large groups of armed personnel. This model fills a gap in the air forces, whose combat capacity has been limited by the lack of advanced weapons despite the progressive increase in the Chinese military budget. Under the program, the Tianlei 500 could help the Army gain air superiority, improve its attack efficiency, and undermine the enemy's combat capabilities.
The presentation of this new missile comes at a time of intense friction between China and the self-governed Taiwan, following the visit last week by Alex Azar, the United States Secretary of Health. It is the most important delegation sent by the US to the island since 1979, the year in which it ceased to recognize its sovereignty. During his stay, Azar met with the president, Tsai Ing-wen, and highlighted the occasion as “a testament to the mutual trust and fluid dialogue between the United States and Taiwan (…). Both Governments will continue to constantly improve this cooperative association on a global level to safeguard the values of democracy, freedom and human rights ”.
This gesture caused the irritation of the Chinese Government. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin questioned the trip as "a threat to peace" after acknowledging that Taiwan is "the most sensitive issue in Sino-US relations." China has never renounced the unification by force of what it considers a rebellious province, while US law forces the country to defend the island against a hypothetical continental invasion.
Beijing expressed its dissatisfaction by sending fighter jets that crossed the middle line of the Taiwan Strait. This was drawn up by Washington in the 1950s to maintain peace between both sides after the end of the civil war between the Communists of Mao Zedong and the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek, but it is not recognized by international law. The use of military operations as message exchange has continued since then, with all parties involved carrying out military exercises in the area.
The United States Navy conducted exercises in the South China Sea last week. On Sunday, the People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong also released footage of its own drill in the Taiwan Strait. A spokesman for the Chinese Armed Forces then declared, without explicitly referring to the US, that "a certain important country" had carried out provocations that had encouraged "pro-independence forces in Taiwan."
Last Monday, the Taiwanese government announced that it was "reinforcing the management" of arrivals from Hong Kong to prevent the establishment of Chinese spies on the island.