China has reportedly made a major leap in its nuclear-capable weapons technology program, testing a missile with capabilities that have caught political adversaries by complete surprise.
According to a bombshell leak reported in the Financial Times on Sunday, the Chinese Communist Party tested a new nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that went around the globe before making its way towards the intended target.
After cruising through low-orbit space, the missile ultimately missed the target by some 38 kilometres, three people briefed on the intelligence told the paper.
However the sources said the August test showed China has made surprisingly rapid and "astounding" gains when it comes to hypersonic weapons.
"We have no idea how they did this," one official told the Financial Times.
Missile tech a 'game changer'
The report has raised some eyebrows in the defence and national security communities, with one analyst likening it to the so-called Sputnik crisis when Western fears were heightened that the Soviet Union was surpassing America's technology capabilities during the Cold War after the launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite.
"China may have just achieved its own Sputnik moment against the US military," tweeted Derek Grossman, a national security and Indo-Pacific analyst.
"Hard to exaggerate how much of a game changer this space-based capability might be if perfected. US missile defences could become negated or even obsolete," he claimed.
The US, China and Russia are all developing hypersonic weapons, which are harder to track for enemy defences.
Bill Bishop, author of China-focused newsletter Sinocism, noted "there seems to be increasing number of leaks about PRC [People's Republic of China] weapons capabilities to mainstream media" in recent times, with some commentators suggesting the strategic leaks are aimed at deterring military action against China as it ratchets up its aggression towards Taiwan.
China's space might continues to grow as crew docks with space station
China's Shenzhou-13 spacecraft carrying three Chinese astronauts has docked at its space station over the weekend, kicking off a record-setting six-month stay as the country moves toward completing the new orbiting outpost.
The spacecraft was launched on Saturday by a Long March-2F rocket and docked with the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong space station about six and a half hours later.
The two men and one woman are the second crew to move into the space station, which was launched in April. The first crew stayed three months.
The crew were seen off by a military band and supporters singing Ode To The Motherland, underscoring the weight of national pride invested in the space program, which has advanced rapidly in recent years.
China's military-run space program plans to send multiple crews to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional. Two more Chinese modules are due to be launched before the end of next year.
China has launched seven crewed missions with a total of 14 astronauts aboard - two have flown twice - since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on its own.
China has also expanded its work on lunar and Mars exploration, including landing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and returning lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
This year, China also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the red planet.
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