China has been showing off its hypersonic missiles for the past several years. That Chinese scientists have been publishing papers reporting their advances in such a sensitive field indicates that Beijing wants the world to know that it is developing these weapons. The US government is quite obviously aware of this. So one would not expect Washington to be greatly surprised to find that China has tested hypersonic missiles a couple of times this year.
Yet, reports in the Financial Times and elsewhere have had US officials expressing shock at this development and comparing China’s hypersonic missile tests to a “Sputnik moment”, a Cold War reference recalling how the Soviet Union surprised the world in 1957 by being the first to put an artificial satellite in orbit. We do not have the full details and Beijing’s missile is bound to be innovative in some ways, but the official reaction in Washington seems to be exaggerated.