China has built up its nuclear arsenal at a rate that has far outpaced U.S. estimates and is projected to have 1,000 nuclear warheads by the end of the decade, according to the Department of Defense (DOD).
The Pentagon released a report on China’s military on Tuesday stating that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has accelerated its nuclear program. China’s current purpose in building up its nuclear arsenal appears to be deterrence and retaliation, if necessary, according to information collected by the U.S. government.
“In 2020, the DoD estimated China’s operational nuclear warhead stockpile was in the low-200s and expected to at least double by 2030. However, Beijing probably accelerated its nuclear expansion, and DoD estimates this stockpile has now surpassed 400 operational nuclear warheads,” the report states.
“By 2030, DoD estimates that the PRC will have about 1,000 operational nuclear warheads, most of which will be fielded on systems capable of ranging the continental United States,” it continued.
The Pentagon estimates that by 2035, China’s People’s Liberation Army could have as many as 1,500 operational nuclear warheads at its disposal.
“The PRC probably intends to develop new nuclear warheads and delivery platforms that at least equal the effectiveness, reliability, and/or survivability of some of the warheads and delivery platforms currently under development by the United States and/or Russia,” the report says. “Developing robust nuclear strike options is likely intended to provide deterrence predominantly against a ‘strong enemy,’ as well as ensure China can inflict unacceptable damage with both proportionate and overwhelming retaliatory capabilities, and thus denying an adversary victory if a war escalates to the nuclear domain.”
The Pentagon estimates that China’s military has the largest navy and the third largest air force in the world. Defense officials are also skeptical of Beijing’s claims that it is adhering to agreements to limit the construction of biological and chemical weapons.
Chinese labs and factories, as well as its missile technology is advanced enough that it could weaponize biological and chemical agents or toxins and attach them to missiles, U.S. officials estimate.
“The PRC’s chemical and biotechnology infrastructures are sufficient to research, develop, and produce some chemical and biological agents or toxins on a large scale,” the report says. “China probably has the technical expertise to weaponize chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents, and China’s robust armaments industry and numerous conventional weapon systems, including missiles, rockets, and artillery, probably could be adapted to deliver CBW agents.”
U.S.-China relations have grown more tense recent years along with the outbreak of COVID-19 and China’s increasingly aggressive moves in its region, such as taking control of Hong Kong and threatening Taiwan. U.S. President Joe Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House in November. Among other topics, the leaders discussed the use of nuclear weapons.
“President Biden raised Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and Russia’s irresponsible threats of nuclear use. President Biden and President Xi reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” a White House readout of the meeting says.