U.S. Says China’s Expanded Nuclear Arsenal a Cause for Concern

The United States said Thursday (July 1) that China’s rapid nuclear arms expansion is a cause for concern and called on Beijing to engage the United States on pragmatic measures to reduce the risk of a destabilizing arms race.

State Department spokesman Condoleezza Price told a regular press conference that China’s nuclear arms expansion is becoming more pronounced and appears to be a departure from China’s decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimal deterrence.

Price’s comments were in response to questions related to a Washington Post report. The Washington Post reported that China had begun construction of what independent experts said were more than 100 silo areas for intercontinental ballistic missiles in the desert area near Yumen in northwestern Gansu province.

Price said, “These reports and other developments suggest that the People’s Republic of China’s nuclear arsenal will grow more rapidly and reach levels perhaps higher than previously anticipated.”

He said, “This expansion is a cause for concern. It raises questions about the intentions of the People’s Republic of China. For us, it again reinforces the importance of seeking pragmatic measures to reduce nuclear risks.”

Price said, “We encourage Beijing to engage with us on pragmatic measures to reduce the risk of a destabilizing arms race, a potentially destabilizing progress situation.”

Price added that this is why President Biden made strategic stability a priority in his engagement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said, “The same would apply to engagement with another nuclear power, the People’s Republic of China.”

Price also said Washington was aware of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech Thursday at a ceremony celebrating the centennial of the Communist Party of China, but the U.S. had “no specific response.”

In his speech, Xi warned that foreign powers that try to bully China will be met with “bloodshed. He also claimed that resolving the Taiwan issue and achieving “complete reunification” is the Communist Party’s “unswerving historical task.

The Washington Post reports that commercial satellite images obtained by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, show dozens of sites in China’s Gansu province covering hundreds of square miles of arid terrain where construction is underway. The 119 nearly identical construction sites have features similar to those seen at China’s existing nuclear-tipped ballistic missile launch facilities.

A Pentagon assessment of China’s military power last September concluded that China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads is expected to at least double over the next decade as it expands and modernizes its nuclear forces.

That Pentagon report said the number of Chinese nuclear warheads was then estimated to be slightly more than 200, including those that could be mounted on ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. The current estimate by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a civil society organization, is that China has a total of 320 nuclear warheads.

Analysts say the United States has about 3,800 nuclear warheads. The Reuters report mentions that 1,357 nuclear warheads were deployed as of March 1, according to a U.S. State Department fact sheet.

Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing to participate in negotiations on a new U.S. arms control treaty with Russia. After President Biden took office, the U.S. and Russia agreed to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the two countries for five years. The U.S. disarmament ambassador said last May that Beijing was resisting such arms control talks, even though it was expanding its nuclear arsenal.

China’s disarmament ambassador told the United Nations in May that “China is willing to conduct bilateral dialogues and enhance strategic mutual trust with nuclear-weapon states, including the United States and Russia, on strategic security issues on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”

Experts in the nonproliferation field said this year that China’s efforts to develop a new generation of nuclear reactor fuel would produce sufficient quantities of nuclear material to potentially be diverted for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.