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Biden delays US nuke-missile test to avoid China’s ire

Joe Biden. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
August 04, 2022

President Joe Biden’s administration has delayed a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile test to avoid further escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, the White House confirmed on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Thursday that the administration chose to delay a Minuteman III ICBM test launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base that was scheduled for this week. Officials told WSJ the test was delayed to avoid worsening tensions with China after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Tuesday.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby confirmed the decision to delay the test during a Thursday press conference at the White House.

“We do not believe it is in our interest, Taiwan’s interest or the region’s interest to allow tensions to escalate further,” Kirby said. “Which is why a long-planned Minuteman III ICBM test scheduled for this week has been rescheduled for the near future.”

While Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, China considers the island a part of its territory. Chinese officials have said Pelosi’s visit to the island violates Chinese sovereignty and vowed to make a “strong” response.

While the U.S. put off its ballistic missile test, Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces launched several of their own ballistic missiles in the Taiwan Strait on Thursday. The missiles reportedly landed near Taiwanese territorial waters and in the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“As China engages in destabilizing military exercises around Taiwan, the United States is demonstrating, instead, the behavior of a responsible nuclear power,” Kirby said.

The PLA’s missile tests are part of a larger set of live fire drills the Chinese military is holding at six separate locations ringing around the island of Taiwan. The Chinese military announced the drills on Tuesday, the same day Pelosi arrived in Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday expressing his concerns about the delayed and canceled U.S. ICBM tests.

“Are these reports accurate?” Cotton asked Austin ahead of the White House’s confirmation. “If so, how long does the administration intend to allow Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to dictate our missile-test schedule?”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force canceled a Minuteman III ICBM test amid heightened tensions with Russia. The test was initially delayed on March 2 after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. On April 1, Reuters reported the test was officially canceled.

Announcing the first delay in March, Kirby (who was the then-Pentagon Press Secretary) noted Russia had also placed its nuclear forces on high alert.

“Such provocative rhetoric and possible changes to nuclear posture involving the most consequential weapons in our respective arsenals is unacceptable,” Kirby said in March. “The United States has not taken any similar steps. And so in an effort to demonstrate that we have no intention in engaging in any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued, the secretary of defense has directed that our Minuteman-III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch scheduled for this week to be postponed.”