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In Possible Signal, China Releases Photos of Missile Test Launch

Surface-to-air missiles are seen on display in December at the People's Liberation Army Aviation Museum in Beijing. The Chinese military this week published pictures of a recent test-firing of an ICBM, an unusual step that is seen by analysts as intended to send a deterrence message to the United States. Surface-to-air missiles are seen on display in December at the People's Liberation Army Aviation Museum in Beijing. The Chinese military this week published pictures of a recent test-firing of an ICBM, an unusual step that is seen by analysts as intended to send a deterrence message to the United States. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chinese military on Tuesday published photos of the recent launch of one of its ICBMs, a move possibly intended as a deterrence signal to the United States.

The official People's Liberation Army website ran 17 images of a test-firing of the Dongfeng 31 intercontinental ballistic missile from a road-mobile launch platform, giving the world the first peek of the rocket in action since its 2006 induction, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.

The Dongfeng 31 has a projected top traveling distance of about 6,200 miles.

Defense analysts said publication of the pictures was meant to send a message to the United States, which has been bolstering its military presence in Asia amid a number of territorial disputes between China and its U.S.-allied neighbors.

"The disclosure of the Dongfeng 31 at this time obviously aims to respond to the United States' two big military moves in Japan," said Macau-based analyst Antony Wong Dong, referring to the Pentagon's recent decisions to forward-deploy the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base and to field 12 F-22 fighter aircraft at Okinawa.

It was not apparent from the photographs exactly when the missile test-launch occurred, though the caption said it took place this winter.

"The PLA realizes that it needs to increase its transparency, which would also provide them more opportunities to show off their military muscle, as well as quiet questions from the U.S. and other Western countries," military expert Ma Ding-sheng said from Hong Kong.

Ma said he doubted the Dongfeng 31 could reach as far as the United States, despite its claimed range. "All its live-launch drills have happened inside Chinese territory, within 5,000 kilometers [roughly 3,100 miles]," he noted. "And we never see the PLA shooting missiles to the Western Pacific."

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