Pentagon papers warn of China’s nuclear threat

Annual defence report spells out the military challenges facing the United States

China’s drive to boost its nuclear weapons arsenal has rattled the United States and increased tension between the two economic superpowers in the Asia-Pacific region.

A wide-ranging Pentagon report to the US Congress this week spelled out the challenges facing Washington in missile technology, space and cyber warfare. By 2027, China is projected to have 700 nuclear warheads and up to 1,000 just three years later. 

“Over the next decade, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] aims to modernize, diversify, and expand its nuclear forces,” the report said, adding that President Xi Jinping’s regime had started building new intercontinental ballistic missile silo sites.

Yet to put China’s nuclear weapons program into perspective, the US has stockpiled at least 3,750 warheads.

Military money-go-round:

  • US defense spending still dwarfs China’s military budget.
  • Washington earmarked US$732 billion, or about 3.4% of GDP, on defense in 2019.
  • In comparison, China invested $261 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
  • But Beijing’s real military spending could be far higher than Bejing’s figures, military experts pointed out.
  • Official numbers fail to take into account research and development, and overseas arms sales from Russia.

The pace at which China is moving is stunning.

General John Hyten, the number two-ranking American military officer

Rapid response: “The pace at which China is moving is stunning,” General John Hyten, who has commanded US nuclear forces and is the number two-ranking American military officer, said as reported by the Associated Press news agency.

Taiwan problem: “The PLA’s evolving concepts continue to strengthen [China’s] ability to ‘fight and win wars’ against a ‘strong enemy’ – a likely euphemism for the United States,” the Pentagon annual report said.

Renegade province: That appeared to be a veiled reference to China’s threat to coerce Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims is a renegade province.

Seismic shift: “The world is witnessing one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power it has ever seen,” General Mark A Milley, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said about China’s rise.

Reaction to the news: “Whatever Washington says about China’s nuclear arsenal, we can just snub them. We should dynamically maintain the nuclear power needed for ensuring our national security and the credibility of our nuclear deterrence,” China’s state-run Global Times said in an editorial, pushing Beijing’s line.

China Factor comment: News last week that the country had launched a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile left the US military in a state of shock. Beijing denied the claims, insisting the “test was a routine spacecraft experiment.” Washington hawks of the ruling  Communist Party of China shook their heads in disbelief at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.