Washington: China is expanding its nuclear force much faster than US officials predicted just a year ago, highlighting a broad and accelerating buildup of military muscle designed to enable Beijing to match or surpass US global power by mid-century, according to a Pentagon report released on Wednesday.
AdvertisementThe number of Chinese nuclear warheads could increase to 700 within six years, the report said, and may top 1,000 by 2030.
The report did not say how many weapons China has today, but a year ago the Pentagon said the number was in the “low 200s” and was likely to double by the end of this decade. The United States, by comparison, has 3,750 nuclear weapons and has no plans to increase.
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AdvertisementThe Biden administration is undertaking a comprehensive review of its nuclear policy and has not said how that might be influenced by its China concerns. The report does not suggest open conflict with China but it fits an emerging US narrative of a People’s Liberation Army, as China calls its military, intent on challenging the United States in all domains of warfare, air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. Against that backdrop, US defence officials have said they are increasingly wary of China’s intentions with regard to the status of Taiwan. “The PLA’s evolving capabilities and concepts continue to strengthen (China’s) ability to fight and win wars’ against a strong enemy’, a likely euphemism for the United States,” the report said, adding that it makes China more capable of coercing Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its territory. Wednesday’s report is the latest reminder to Congress, already leery of Beijing’s military ambitions, that the Pentagon’s frequent promises to focus more intently on countering China have moved only incrementally beyond the talking stage. The Biden administration is expected to take a new step by following through on its announcement in September of plans to increase the US military presence in Australia, in addition to a controversial decision to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines. China’s military modernization is proceeding on a wide front, but its nuclear advances are especially notable. The Chinese may already have established what is known as a nuclear triad — the combination of land-, sea-, and air-based missiles that the United States and Russia have had for decades, the report said. To its existing land- and sea-based nuclear forces China is adding an air-launched ballistic missile. The Pentagon report was based on information collected through December 2020 and so does not reflect or even mention Gen. Mark Milley’s expression of concern last month about Chinese hypersonic weapon tests last summer that he said came as a troublesome surprise. Wednesday’s report only referred to the widely known fact that China had fielded the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile, equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to evade American missile defenses. In remarks shortly before the report’s release Wednesday, Milley told the Aspen Security Forum that the hypersonic missile test and other Chinese advances are evidence of what is at stake for the world. “We are witnessing one of the largest shifts in global and geostrategic power that the world has witnessed,” he said. The Pentagon report said China is pursuing a network of overseas bases that “could interfere with” US military operations and could support Chinese military operations against the United States. President Xi Jinping has said China plans to become a global military power by 2049. The Pentagon’s wide-ranging assessment of China’s military strategy and force development is the latest in an annual series of reports to Congress and in some respects was more detailed than previous versions. For example, it questioned China’s compliance with international biological and chemical weapons agreements, citing studies conducted at military medical institutions that discussed identifying, testing and characterizing groups of “potent toxins” that have civilian as well as military uses. The basis of the Pentagon’s prediction that China will vastly increase its nuclear arsenal is not spelled out in Wednesday’s report. A senior defense official who briefed reporters in advance of the report’s public release, and thus spoke on condition of anonymity, said the forecast reflects several known developments, such as China’s addition of a nuclear bomber capability, as well as public statements in Chinese official media that have made reference to China needing 1,000 nuclear weapons. The report also asserted that China has begun construction of at least three new missile fields that “cumulatively contain hundreds” of underground silos from which ICBMs could be launched. The report provided no details on the new missile fields, but private nuclear analysts have reported that satellite imagery shows what appear to be vast new missile silo fields under construction in north-central China. In an update published Tuesday, analysts Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said they have seen continued construction progress and have discovered “unique facilities that appear intended to support missile operations once the silo fields become operational.” One of those facilities, they said, is a complex in the mountains surrounded by what appear to be four tunnels into underground facilities. The tunnels are under construction and there are large amounts of excavated soil dumped nearby. This facility’s function is unknown but “could potentially involve missile and/or warhead storage and management,” the analysts said. Other structures under construction may be technical service facilities and launch control centers, they said. China has continued “taking incremental and tactical actions” to press its claims at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India and has unsuccessfully sought to prevent New Delhi from deepening its relationship with the United States, the Pentagon has said in a report. “The PRC (People’s Republic of China) seeks to prevent border tensions from causing India to partner more closely with the United States. PRC officials have warned US officials to not interfere with the PRC’s relationship with India,” the Department of Defense told the US Congress on Wednesday. The Pentagon regularly reports to the Congress on the Indo-Chinese military standoff in eastern Ladakh. The Department of Defense has categorically said China is indulging in aggressive and coercive behaviour with its neighbours, India in particular. Beginning in May 2020, the Chinese Army launched incursions into customarily Indian-controlled territory across the border and has concentrated troops at several standoff locations along the LAC, the Pentagon said. As of June 2021, China and India continue to maintain large-scale deployments along the LAC and make preparations to sustain these forces while disengagement negotiations have made limited progress. In addition, a substantial reserve force from the Tibet and Xinjiang Military Districts were deployed to the interior of Western China to provide a rapid response. The June 2020 skirmish in Galwan Valley, which led to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, marked the first loss of life on the LAC since 1975. In February 2021, China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) announced posthumous awards for four PLA soldiers, though the total number of Chinese casualties remains unknown, it said. The Pentagon said despite the ongoing diplomatic and military dialogues to reduce border tensions, China has continued “taking incremental and tactical actions” to press its claims at the LAC. In 2020, China built a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between the Chinese Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh state in the eastern sector of the LAC. “These and other infrastructure development efforts along India-China have been a source of consternation in the Indian government and media,” the Pentagon said. In contrast, China has attempted to blame India for provoking the standoff through India’s increased infrastructure development near the LAC. Asserting that its deployments to the LAC were in response to Indian provocation, Beijing has refused to withdraw forces till India’s forces have withdrawn behind the Chinese version of the LAC and ceased infrastructure improvements in the area, the Pentagon said. As the standoff continues, China has expressed its aim to prevent the standoff from worsening into a wider military conflict, the report said, adding that Beijing has voiced its intent to return bilateral relations with New Delhi to a state of economic and diplomatic cooperation it had perceived to be improving since the 2017 Doklam standoff. China’s state-controlled media forcefully asserted China’s intent to refuse any territorial concessions demanded by India. Chinese officials, through official statements and state media, had also sought unsuccessfully to prevent India from deepening its relationship with the United States during and subsequent to the standoff, while accusing India of being a mere “instrument” of U.S. policy in the region, it said. The Pentagon said in 2020 acute tensions and clashes along the border with India resulted in significant PLA force buildup and establishment or enforcement of forward positions along the Line of Actual Control. These tensions likely provided the PLA with valuable real-world operational and tactical experience, it said. According to the report, at the height of the border standoff between China and India in 2020, the Chinese Army installed a fiber optic network in remote areas of the western Himalayas to provide faster communications and increased protection from foreign interception. The PLA field commanders view near-real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and situational data as well as redundant and reliable communications as essential to streamlining decision making processes and shortening response timelines, it said. The eastern Ladakh border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5 last year following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry. The tension escalated following a deadly clash in Galwan Valley on June 15 last year. As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in the north and south banks of the Pangong lake in February and in the Gogra area in August. The last round of military talks on October 10 ended in a stalemate following which both sides blamed each other for the impasse.