China, Fearing US Aggression, Accelerating Nuclear Arsenal

China, Fearing US Aggression, Accelerating Nuclear Arsenal Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in China before Russia's invasion of Ukraine Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in China before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Alexei Druzhinin/Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Saturday, 09 April 2022 01:29 PM

China might be advancing expansions of its nuclear arsenal, including accelerating work this year on more than 100 suspected missile silos as the country's leaders are changing their threat assessment, but U.S. officials say the exact reasons for the buildup are not yet clear.

The suspected missile silo construction has grown in China's western reason and could be eventually used to store nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles that could reach the United States, reports The Wall Street Journal, quoting analysts that have studied the satellite images of the area.

While American officials are not specifying the reason for the buildup, people close to China's leadership said the acceleration toward more weapons as a deterrent against U.S. aggression and as a way to keep the country from becoming directly involved if there is an invasion of Taiwan.

The Chinese sources also said their country's government fears the United States could try to topple its communist regime, following a shift in policy during the Biden and Trump administrations.

But while U.S. military and security officials say they are concerned China will make a surprise nuclear strike, the Chinese sources said Beijing has not made any commitments about whether it will use nuclear weapons in a first hit.

Further, the sources said the Chinese military leaders think the country's nuclear stockpile is too old to be effective against a nuclear strike from the United States.

The reaction to the war in Ukraine, as well as the international reaction to Russian President Vladimir's decision to put his nuclear forces on full alert, is also showing China the value of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Ukraine, in 1994, surrendered its nuclear weapons after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a retired Chinese official with ties to his country's nuclear program said Ukraine is in its current situation because it lost that threat.

China's Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request for comment, and the sources with knowledge of Beijing's thinking on nuclear policy are not directly involved with the government's decisions.

However, Chinese officials have denied expansions are taking place.

"On the assertions made by U.S. officials that China is expanding dramatically its nuclear capabilities, first, let me say that this is untrue," Fu Cong, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's arms control department, commented, adding China is instead working to ensure that its nuclear deterrent capabilities meet minimum amounts necessary to defend the country.

However, the secrecy of the Chinese program, compared to the openness between the United States and the former Soviet Union in the 1980s during arms control talks is being seen as an issue.

China has also rejected the calls for nuclear arms talks with the United States, maintaining Washington must first reduce its weapons.

According to U.S. government and private sector estimates, China's nuclear arsenal is still low, holding weapons in the low hundreds, compared to the United States and Russia, which hold roughly 4,000 warheads combined.

However, the Pentagon is estimating China will have 1,000 warheads by the end of the decade.

In January, satellite issues showed 45 of the covers that were put over 120 suspected missile silos have been removed near the city of Yumen.

Matt Gorda, a senior research associate for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, says that shows work might have been completed. The silos are large enough to each hold a new long-range missile capable of reaching the United States mainland.