In an interview with Fox News released on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper specifically touched upon the Pentagon’s recent cruise missile test launch, which he said could be seen, among other things, as a message to China.
The remarks come just days after the Pentagon tested a conventional ground-launched cruise missile which covered a range which would have been banned under the US-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which was abandoned by Washington earlier this month.
“We wanted to make sure that we, as we need to, have the capability to also deter China’s bad behavior by having our own capability to be able to strike it in intermediate ranges,” Esper, who wrapped up his Asia tour earlier this month, said.
When asked if he chose Asia for his first trip because he considered China to be the greatest security threat to the US, Esper said that China was the number one priority for the Defense Department.
The Pentagon chief also described Beijing as Washington’s long-term strategic competitor, pledging that the US would not pull out of the region.
“I think in the long term, China is a greater challenge, given its economic might, its political weight and its ambitions,” Ester pointed out.
The two countries have been locked in a trade conflict since June 2018, when Trump announced levies on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, justifying the move by citing the need to balance the trade deficit. Since then, the two countries have introduced several rounds of reciprocal tariffs.
Separately, Esper said that he does not rule out that the US may create its hypersonic weapons within “a couple of years”.