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Photo: Maxar Technologies via Reuters

China's military has built targets that resemble U.S. Navy warships in the Taklamakan desert in the northwestern Xinjiang region, according to satellite images captured by Maxar.

Why it matters: The mock-ups of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and destroyer reflect the Chinese government's efforts to expand anti-carrier capabilities, "specifically against the U.S. Navy," per Reuters.

Details: The images show a "full-scale outline of a U.S. carrier and at least two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers" that have been built on what seems to be a new target range complex, Reuters notes.

  • Experts said a six-meter-wide rail system featuring a ship-sized target on it could be used to "simulate a moving vessel," Reuters reports.

Between the lines: The site has been used previously for ballistic missile testing, according to the independent U.S. Naval Institute, citing AllSource Analysis, which identified the site from Maxar's imagery.

  • "The mockups of several probable U.S. warships, along with other warships (mounted on rails and mobile), could simulate targets related to seeking/target acquisition testing," AllSource Analysis said, per the U.S. Naval Institute.
  • "This, and the extensive detail of the mockups, including the placement of multiple sensors on and around the vessel targets, it is probable that this area is intended for multiple uses over time," the summary added.

What they're saying: China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in response to a question on the satellite images during a briefing Monday, "I'm not aware of the situation you mentioned," AP reports.

Of note: The development comes as the ruling Chinese Communist Party is expected to further consolidate the power of President Xi Jinping at a closed-door meeting that begins in Beijing on Monday, Reuters notes.

  • The Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper

Nov 17, 2021 - World

New details emerge on Beijing's hypersonic weapons test last summer

Gen. John E. Hyten arrives for testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in an interview with CBS News that the Chinese government's hypersonic weapons test last summer could jeopardize the world order's current nuclear balance.

Why it matters, via Axios' Zachary Basu: Weapons experts caution that China's hypersonic missile test is not a technological game-changer in the same way that Sputnik was. But the fact that the breakthrough caught U.S. intelligence by surprise is raising alarms in Washington, especially in the context of the Chinese government's rapid nuclear expansion and military modernization efforts.

Nov 16, 2021 - World

U.S. and China agree to ease visa restrictions for journalists

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and China have agreed to ease Trump-era visa restrictions for journalists on a reciprocal basis, following a series of expulsions by both governments during heightened tensions last year, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: It's an initial but significant breakthrough in a dispute that had played a prominent role in the overall ratcheting up of tensions between Washington and Beijing toward the tail end of the Trump administration.

Nov 17, 2021 - World

Biden team’s 4 priorities on China engagement

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday the future of the U.S.-China relationship can best be categorized by placing future bilateral engagement into four "buckets."

Why it matters: President Biden held a 3.5-hour, late-night virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday. Sullivan helped fill in the blanks with a public readout on the talks at the Brookings Institution.

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