China has reportedly deployed its advanced nuclear missiles near the Russian border, but is it to fight Russia or to team up with Russia to fight the U.S.?

When reports that China had deployed advanced Dongfeng-41 ICBMs near the Russia border surfaced on Tuesday, it understandably sparked confusion in the media. Deploying weapons, let alone nukes, close to borders with other nations is usually a signal of hostility.

China United states
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

But why would Russia and China, the countries that seemingly like one another, suddenly prepare for war? The answer is: the U.S. and Donald Trump. China’s deployment of the DF-41 reportedly coincided with Trump’s inauguration as U.S. President on Friday.

Citing Taiwan and Hong Kong media, the Communist Party-controlled Global Times leaked pictures showing Chinese advanced Dongfeng-41 ICBMs being deployed in Heilongjiang Province, which borders Russia. Although details about the missiles are highly classified by the Chinese government, it’s known that the nuclear-powered DF-41 is a three-stage solid-propellant missile which is capable of hitting targets at a range of 15,000 kilometers.

That range makes it capable of reaching the entire territory of the United States from Beijing or any of China’s other cities. The DF-41, which has yet to be showcased to the general public, is also said to be capable of hitting enemies with up to 10 MIRVed nuclear warheads.

Is a China vs. U.S. war imminent?

The deployment of the DF-41 ICBMs was interpreted as China’s not-so-subtle response to Trump’s inauguration. Beijing perceives the Trump presidency as a threat to its security and regional hegemony in Asia. Before assuming office on Friday, Trump had slammed Chinese in pretty much all of his speeches. The new U.S. President has threatened to put an end to the One China policy, which is often viewed as the foundation of U.S.-China relations.

In early December, Trump took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president, which was viewed in Beijing as a complete disregard of the One China policy. After he violated the decades-old protocol prohibiting direct contact between the U.S. government and self-governing Taiwan, Beijing said Trump was “playing with fire.”

But refusing to acknowledge continental China as the only Chinese nation is not the only reason China views the Trump presidency as a threat to its national interests. During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly vowed to put more economic pressure on China and said he would impose huge tariffs on imported goods from China, something Beijing later said could trigger a trade war.

The economic well-being and the One China policy are not the only two matters of national importance for China that Trump seems to be opposing. He has repeatedly criticized Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea. On Monday, the new U.S. President even promised that he would prevent China from seizing territories in the South China Sea, something Beijing has previously warned would be deemed an act of war.

Russia sees “no threat” in China’s deployment of nukes

While the deployment of China’s advanced DF-41 near its border with Russia is said to have coincided with Trump’s inauguration, Beijing reportedly plans to deploy at least three brigades of the Dongfeng-41 throughout China. It’s yet unclear where the Chinese military may be planning to station the remaining two DF-41 brigades.

It’s not the first time Chinese have showed off its ultimate military power to send chilling signals to the U.S. Last month, Beijing test-fired a railcar-launched version of the DF-41, which coincided with the timing of the then-U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit on an American aircraft carrier deployed in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.

But the Russians are not worried that by deploying the nuclear missile close to their border, China is trying to direct hostility toward them. According to Russia’s leading military analyst, Konstantin Sivkov, the deployment of the DF-41 near Russia’s border shouldn’t be interpreted as a threat to Moscow.

“DF-41 missiles placed near Russia’s border are a smaller threat than if they were placed deeper in the Chinese territory,” Sivkov told RIA Novosti. “Such missiles usually have a very large ‘dead zone’ [area within minimal range that cannot be attacked by a weapon].”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov also downplayed China’s deployment of the nuclear missiles close to Russia’s border and insisted that Beijing is Moscow’s “strategic partner in political and economic senses.”

“Certainly, the actions of the Chinese military, if the reports prove correct, the military build-up in China is not perceived as a threat to our country.”

China and Russia join forces against the U.S.

While it’s believed that the deployment of the DF-41 ICBMs was China’s not-so-subtle response to Trump’s inauguration, why would Beijing specifically choose its border with Russia? Why not deploy the DF-41 near its border with India or North Korea?

That might be China’s way of showing trust in Russia as its strategic partner and a potential ally in their joint war to wipe out U.S. global dominance. China and Russia, which share a 4,209-kilometer border, joined forces earlier this month to oppose America’s plans to deploy the THAAD missile system close to their borders.

In their joint statement, Moscow and Beijing said they viewed U.S. plans to deploy the missile system in South Korea to seemingly stop any potential nuclear attack from the neighboring North Korea, as threatening their own security. Russia and China said they are feeling very vulnerabe by the possible deployment of the THAAD and that they fear the U.S. could use the missile system as a deterrent against not only North Korea but also them.

While in the past, both Beijing and Moscow have separately voiced their concerns about the THAAD missile system, the two nations now decided to join forces against the U.S. In their joint statement, China and Russia also warned that they would take countermeasures if Washington moves forward with its deployment of the missile system in South Korea. They did not, however, specify what kind of countermeasures they would take.

The THAAD problem: Russia + China – America

Both Beijing and Moscow are worried the U.S. might use the THAAD, which is designed to take out incoming projectiles, to track missiles from their countries. Such military prowess would allow Washington to geopolitically contain Russia and China, further tightening its global dominance grip.

While Moscow and Beijing are equally interested in deterring North Korea and opposing its ever-growing nuclear program, the two nations still view the THAAD as a potential threat to their own security and national interests. Moscow and Beijing share similar fears when it comes to the deployment of the missile system near their borders.

These fears have united the two nations and have drawn them closer, and deploying the DF-41 near the Russian border on the day of Trump’s inauguration could be Beijing’s warning to the new U.S. administration to give up plans regarding the THAAD missile system.