China is on track to double the size of its nuclear warhead stockpile while expanding foreign military bases capable of attacking the United States — worrying signs that Beijing is seeking global superpower status, the Pentagon warned in its annual survey of the Chinese military released Tuesday.
The People’s Liberation Army currently has a warhead stockpile in the “low 200s” but will expand it over the coming years for a nuclear triad of land-based missiles, missiles fired from submarines and bombers, according to the report to Congress.
“Over the next decade, China will expand and diversify its nuclear forces, likely at least doubling its nuclear warhead stockpile,” the report states.
Chinese nuclear forces currently include large numbers of silo-based and road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, along with an array of high-tech weapons such as multiple-warhead missiles and ultra-high-speed hypersonic glide vehicles. Other new systems include theater-range precision strike nuclear weapons designed to counter American ballistic missile defenses, advanced intelligence systems and precision-strike weapons.
Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant defense secretary for China, said the report marks the first time that U.S. intelligence has made public the numbers of Chinese warheads.
“We’re certainly concerned about the numbers,” Mr. Sbragia told reporters. Beyond numbers of warheads and weapons, there are also troubling signs regarding “just the trajectory of China’s nuclear developments writ large,” he said.
The nuclear buildup involves “new processes, tools and capacities” to reach more than 400 warheads, he said. “So this is not just the end product itself; it’s about the entire infrastructure to do so.”
Rick Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the report presents an alarming picture of growing Chinese military power and the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to democracy and freedom.
“For decades, China analysts in Washington have been downplaying or denying the possibility that China could become a global challenge to the United States, which this year’s China Military Report now acknowledges is building in plain sight,” he said.