March 19, 2014 1:00 pm JST

Hypersonic missile boosts Chinese confidence

KATSUHIKO MESHINO, Nikkei editorial writer

TOKYO -- "Gone is the century of humiliation for China in modern history," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared, expressing strong confidence that it will never happen again.

     Wang made the remarks in response to a question from a state-owned media reporter at a press conference during the annual National People's Congress on March 8. The press conference lasted for about one and a half hours. The question asked at the end of the event was: "You've been in the position of foreign minister for a year now. Can you talk to us about your personal experience and impression?"

     Wang's answers should provide food for thought for many.

     One may wonder why Wang referred to "the century of humiliation" when asked about his personal experience and impressions during his first year in office. You may also wonder why the top diplomat of the Communist Party-ruled government was so sure about not suffering the same fate again.

     But judging from the nature of a press conference at the ceremonial legislature's annual session and given that the question was asked by a state-run media, it appeared that Wang was fully prepared for the question. We should assume that he did not speak of his personal experience and impressions, but sent a message to people both at home and abroad about China's unique worldview.

     This worldview appears to be based on a mix of victim mentality and a sense of national greatness, although almost all nations probably possess a touch of victim mentality. The big question about Wang's remarks is: why is he so confident that China's history of humiliation will never repeat itself? One recent news report may help answer this question.

Successful test

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative U.S. website, reported in mid-January that China conducted the first test flight of a new ultra-high speed missile vehicle. According to the report, China's military successfully tested the new craft capable of flying at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound, or Mach 10, on Jan. 9.

     The WFB reported the Chinese test, quoting U.S. defense department sources. Soon afterward, Chinese media effectively confirmed the report, citing officials at China's Ministry of National Defense.

     Mach 10 means that the new Chinese vehicle can travel at more than 12,000 kilometers per hour. The circumference of the Earth is about 40,000 kilometers, so this weapon is capable of striking targets anywhere on the globe in under two hours. It is believed to be a hypersonic glide vehicle, which unlike ballistic missiles is maneuverable.

     Bonji Ohara, research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, said that it is "almost impossible" for current missile defense systems to shoot down such a hypersonic object. "It is a revolutionary strategic weapon that could change the strategic balance of the world in the near future," he said.

Worldwide race

The U.S. is leading the development race for the HGV. The U.S. is now developing a system called "Prompt Global Strike" that can bomb anywhere in the world within an hour. HGV is one of the key technologies for building this system. Washington has reportedly already conducted a successful test flight of a hypersonic vehicle.

     Russia and India are also said to be trying to develop HGVs. In Japan, the government-affiliated space agency, known as JAXA, is developing a turbojet engine for hypersonic aircraft, albeit for civilian use.

     But China's successful January test of a new ultra-high speed missile vehicle means that the country now takes second place in this global development race, behind the U.S. There is no doubt that China has significantly enhanced its weapon development capabilities. Beijing shows no sign of letting up its rapid military build-up, with defense spending set to surge ahead at a double-digit pace again this year.

     Wang has good reason to be confident about China's future power.