China's alleged deployment of a DF-41 strategic ballistic missile brigade to Heilongjiang province, bordering Russia, triggered a fascinating spectacle; how to spin – or not to spin - what necessarily represents a milestone in Russia-China's strategic partnership.
The Global Times stressed Hong Kong and Taiwan media interpreted pictures of the DF-41 were taken in Heilongjiang, admitting there was no official confirmation from Beijing while hoping the "strategic edge" would soon be confirmed.
Russian media was way more explicit, with military analyst Konstantin Sivkov stressing that the DF-41, as positioned, would not be able to target Russia's Far East and most of Eastern Siberia; and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noting that "if the reports prove correct, the military build-up in China is not perceived as a threat to our country."
Of course not. The Russia-China strategic partnership, which, as I argued, needs to be broken according to Trump's shadow foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger's strategy, is a very serious business. If there were indeed a deployment, Russian intelligence would have been fully aware. Peskov's response also pre-empted the notion this might represent a Chinese response to potential US-Russia negotiations over nuclear disarmament.
Still, all of the above did not prevent the Chinese Foreign Ministry to issue an attempt at a non-denial denial, describing the alleged deployment as "speculation and crude guesses".
Go West, young missile
The timing of the alleged deployment, with Team Trump doubling down on anti-Chinese rhetoric on their war of positioning geared to extract further trade concessions, may indeed betray a very graphic Beijing message.
The DF-41, a three-stage solid-propellant missile, with a range of up to 15,000 km and capable of delivering up to 10 MIRVed nuclear warheads, is one of the most sophisticated – and secret — ICBMS on earth. Virtually everything about it is classified. Positioning in Heilongjiang, near the city of Daqing, close to the Russian border, implies a huge "dead zone" around it. So call it a mix of nuclear deterrence and a "message" to the ultimate target — the West Coast of the United States.
This propels the matter to an even more serious sphere than a possible upcoming crisis in the South China Sea, where the Pentagon, under the pretext of "freedom of navigation", is obsessed in maintaining "access", Trump or no Trump.
If there ever were an attempted American blockade in the South China Sea, it would be easy to take out the Chinese-developed islands/islets/rocks/shoals. But far from easy to grapple with the Chinese response; submarines with "carrier killer" missiles able to take out anything the US Navy may come up with.
Islands/islets/rocks/shoals in the South China Sea have no inherent strategic significance for the US. What their upgrading – the Beltway would say "militarization" — does represent is China's progressive attempt to eventually deny access to the US Navy.
Enter the "messenger" DF-41. The technical reasons why Russia does not see the DF-41 as a threat are simple – and may unveil the rationale behind the alleged deployment.
Beijing has been able to deploy its predecessor, the DF-31 – which is able to target Russia — for more than a decade now. And a simple analysis of distance and trajectory reveals that Heilongjiang province is the optimum location for the DF-41 to target the whole of the continental US.
It's virtually guaranteed that an official Chinese confirmation of the DF-41 deployment will accelerate a nuclear arms race, involving all players from Russia, China and the US to India and Pakistan and even North Korea.
But more than this, it will be yet another lethal blow to the Beltway's master strategy – first deployed by Dr. Zbig "Grand Chessboard" Brzezinski – of trying to prevent the emergence of any peer competitor, or worse, an alliance of peer competitors such as Russia-China.
Just at the start of the Trump era, the new reality could not be more striking. Not long ago, it was "say hello to Russia-China". Now it's "say hello to China's ICBMs."