The revelations come at a time of rising tensions between the two superpowers, with China today ordering the US to cease all communication with Taiwan “so as not stray further down an erroneous path”. In its annual report to Congress on China‘s military, the Pentagon said the number of nuclear warheads Beijing has at its disposal currently is somewhere in the low 200s.
However, defence analysts believe China has enough material to double its nuclear weapons stockpile without new fissile material production by the end of the decade.
Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, told reporters: “We’re certainly concerned about the numbers but also just the trajectory of China’s nuclear developments writ large.”
Mr Sbragia said China was also nearing completion of its nuclear triad capacity, suggesting China is further along than previously publicly known.
The concept of a nuclear triad refers to the three ways in which nuclear weapons can be deployed.
China currently has only two of the three legs – but is developing a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile.
The report said that in October 2019, China publicly revealed the H-6N bomber as its first nuclear capable air-to-air refuelling bomber.
Washington has repeatedly called for China to join in trilateral negotiations to extend New START, a US-Russian nuclear arms treaty which is due to expire in February.
China has said it has no interest in joining the negotiation, given that the US nuclear arsenal is about 20 times the size of China’s.
In July, a senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing would “be happy to” participate in trilateral arms control negotiations, but only if the United States were willing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to China’s level.
Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association advocacy group, said China’s growing nuclear arsenal should not be used as an excuse for the United States and Russia not to extend New START.
He added: “It further reinforces the importance of extending New START and the folly of conditioning extension on China and China’s participation in arms control.”
China and the US are at loggerheads over a wide range of issues, from their ongoing trade dispute to Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea.
The US decision to send health chief Alex Azar to Taiwan has also angered Beijing, which regards the island as part of its territory in accordance with its “one-China principle”.
In addition, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell yesterday announced the United States was establishing a new bilateral economic dialogue aimed at strengthening “ties” with Taiwan.
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “The one-China principle is the political basis and fundamental precondition for the establishment and development of China-US diplomatic ties.
“We urge the United States to abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. joint communiques, to stop lifting its substantial relationship with Taiwan and to cease any forms of official contact with Taiwan, so as not stray further down an erroneous path.”