As of May, China reportedly possessed 'more than 500 operational nuclear warheads,' a figure surpassing previous U.S. estimates. The Pentagon's annual China Military Power Report suggests that China's military progress is set to 'exceed previous expectations,' further straining the already tense relationship between the two global superpowers.
The escalating tensions between the U.S. and China stem from a myriad of issues, including China's assertiveness towards Taiwan, its military activities in the South China Sea, trade disputes, and human rights concerns. A U.S. defense official expressed alarm over China's nuclear weapons proliferation, urging Beijing to be 'more transparent on their nuclear buildup.'
The official noted, 'We see the PRC (People's Republic of China) continuing to quite rapidly modernize and diversify and expand its nuclear forces. What they're doing now, if you compare it to what they were doing about a decade ago, it really far exceeds that in terms of scale and complexity.'
The Federation of American Scientists reports that the U.S. currently maintains a stockpile of approximately 3,700 nuclear warheads, with 1,419 strategic nuclear warheads deployed. Russia, on the other hand, has a stockpile of 4,489 nuclear warheads, with about 1,550 deployed.
The Pentagon report also indicates that China is seeking to enhance its ability to launch nuclear weapons from various platforms, including land, air, and submarines. It suggests that China may be developing a new intercontinental missile system using conventional weapons, which could potentially 'threaten conventional strikes against targets in the continental United States, Hawaii and Alaska.'
The report also highlights that Beijing has 'probably completed' the construction of 300 intercontinental ballistic missile launch facilities. China's Navy, already the largest globally, has increased its fleet to over 370 ships and submarines, up from 340 last year. This naval expansion aligns with President Xi Jinping's ambition to establish China as the dominant military power in the region.
The report also reiterates concerns over Beijing's mounting pressure on Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province. This pressure includes ballistic missile tests and increased incursions by warplanes. U.S. officials believe that Beijing is 'almost certainly' drawing lessons from Russia's conflict in Ukraine, preparing for a potential conflict over Taiwan and developing economic self-reliance in light of Western sanctions imposed on Moscow.
China's foreign ministry has dismissed the Pentagon's report as inaccurate and 'prejudiced,' without specifically disputing the figures. Foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning stated, 'China firmly pursues a nuclear strategy of self-defense. This report ignores the facts, is full of prejudice and spreads the theory of the threat posed by China. We have always kept our nuclear forces at the minimum level required for national security and have no intention to engage in a nuclear arms race with any country.'
Mao Ning further assured that 'No country will be threatened by China's nuclear weapons as long as it does not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against China.' Beijing maintains a 'no first use' policy, vowing never to initiate a nuclear strike. In contrast, the U.S. does not adhere to a 'no first use' policy, stating that nuclear weapons would only be used in 'extreme circumstances.'
President Xi has set a deadline of 2027 for his military to develop the capability to retake Taiwan. In response, the U.S. has committed billions of dollars in arms to Taiwan to bolster its defenses against any potential attack.