China is expanding its nuclear arsenal much more quickly than anticipated, the US has said, but Beijing yesterday slammed the Pentagon report as overhyping the threat.
The US has declared China its principal security concern for the future, as Beijing works to build the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into “world-class forces” by 2049, its official plan shows.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) could have 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027, and could top 1,000 by 2030 — an arsenal two-and-a-half times the size of what the Pentagon predicted only a year ago, a report published on Wednesday by the Pentagon said.
By 2027, China aims to have the “capabilities to counter the US military in the Indo-Pacific region, and compel Taiwan’s leadership to the negotiation table on Beijing’s terms,” it added.
A year ago, the Pentagon’s China report said that the country had about 200 deliverable warheads and would double that by 2030.
Independent researchers have in the past few months published satellite photographs of new nuclear missile silos in western China.
The developments come as China expands and upgrades its military, seeking the capability of projecting power globally, much as the US has done for decades.
The rivalry has increased concerns about a possible US-China clash, especially over Taiwan, which is closely supported by Washington.
Like the US and Russia, the two leading nuclear powers, China is building a “nuclear triad,” with capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons from land-based ballistic missiles, from missiles launched from the air and from submarines, it said.
Beijing is also “building the infrastructure necessary to support this major expansion of its nuclear forces,” said the assessment, which came in the Pentagon’s annual report to the US Congress on Chinese military developments.
However, the report said that China was likely not seeking a capability to launch an unprovoked atomic strike on a nuclear-armed adversary — primarily the US — but looking to deter attacks by maintaining a credible threat of nuclear retaliation.
Beijing has dismissed US fears over its military development, and yesterday accused the Pentagon report of aiming to “hype up talk of the China nuclear threat.”
“The report released by the US Department of Defense, like previous similar reports, ignores facts and is full of prejudice,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said.
China says its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the US and Russia, and that it is ready for dialogue, but only if Washington reduces its nuclear stockpile to China’s level.
The US has a stockpile of 3,750 nuclear warheads, of which 1,389 were deployed as of Sept. 1.
The report also confirmed recent reports that in October last year, Pentagon officials were forced to quell real concerns in Beijing that the US, driven by domestic political tensions related to the presidential election, intended to instigate a conflict with China in the South China Sea.
Separately, the top US general on Wednesday said that China was unlikely to try to militarily seize Taiwan in the next couple of years.
“Based on my analysis of China, I don’t think that it is likely in the near future — being defined as, you know, six, 12, maybe 24 months, that kind of window,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said when asked if China was preparing to make a move on Taiwan in the near future.
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