The issue has raised alarm bells for US intelligence agencies
Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that China tested a space vehicle in July and not a hypersonic missile. “It was not a missile, it was a space vehicle,” Mr Zhao said.
Observers had noted that Chine did not announce an operation between its 77th space launch in July and what it called its 79th in late August.
A report in the Temps Financier citing five sources close to the launch said that the country had, En réalité, tested a hypersonic missile that “flew through low-orbit space” in a way that could “negate” America’s missile defence systems. China’s space programme is run by its military and is closely tied to its agenda of building hypersonic missiles.
China had not commented on the Saturday evening report in the Temps Financier beyond an article in the Communist Party-run Temps mondial un journal. The piece gloated about the advancement of China’s military capabilities relative to the US “if the FT report is to be believed”.
Speaking during his regular media briefing on Monday, Mr Zhao told reporters that the August test 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”.
He added that it was a “routine test” for the purpose of testing technology to reuse the vehicle.
People familiar with the event told Temps Financier that China’s testing of the missile demonstrated “astounding progress on hypersonic weapons.” They had said that the weapons were far more advanced than the US officials realised.
One of the officials familiar with the test said: “We have no idea how they did this.”
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said: “We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond.”
Il ajouta: “That is one reason why we hold China as our number-one pacing challenge.”