Chinese hypersonic missile test: UK closely monitoring says Downing Street

On Monday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that the test launch, which took place over the summer, was of a spacecraft, not a missile

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Britain is closely monitoring reports that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile earlier this year, Downing Street has said.

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that the Chinese military launched a hypersonic glide vehicle which which flew through low-orbit space before descending towards its target.

Although, it was said to have missed by around “two dozen miles”, the paper said it showed Beijing had made far greater progress on developing a hypersonic weapons than US intelligence had previously realised.

On Monday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that the test launch, which took place over the summer, was of a spacecraft, not a missile.

He said it was of “great significance for reducing the use-cost of spacecraft and could provide a convenient and affordable way to make a round trip for mankind’s peaceful use of space”.

Following the reports, Downing Street said the UK Government was keeping a “close watch” on developments.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was important that all powers with a nuclear weapons arsenal behaved “responsibly”.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and as ever are clear that all states with nuclear capability must act responsibly within the international system,” the spokesman said.

“We have seen what has been reported.

“We will keep a close watch on this development but it is important that those with these capabilities behave responsibly.”

Asked if the UK accepted Beijing’s explanation that it was a spacecraft, not a weapons system, the spokesman said: “At this stage I am not able to pass judgment on that without further information.”

The reported development come at time of growing tensions between China and the West, amid concerns about Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

The UK, the United States and Australia recently announced a new defence pact, Aukus, which was immediately denounced by China as a threat to regional stability.

The US, Russia and China are all reported to be developing hypersonic weapons which including glide vehicles that are launched into space by a rocket.

The vehicles fly at five times the speed of sound, slower than a ballistic missile, but do not follow a fixed parabolic trajectory and are manoeuvrable, making them harder to track.