Chinese media has lashed out at the Pentagon over a senior official’s recent claims that Beijing was in the midst of a nuclear modernisation programme that would soon allow the Asian nation to outstrip Russia as America’s top nuclear adversary.
Last week, Lt-Gen Thomas Bussiere, deputy commander of United Strategic Command (US STRATCOM), told a think-tank that “there’s going to be a point, a crossover point, where the number of [nuclear] threats presented by China will exceed the number of threats that currently Russia presents.”
Bussiere alleged that Beijing was in the middle of accumulating nuclear weapons, and suggested that this was “no longer aligned” to the country’s claim that it seeks to maintain only a minimum nuclear capability to ensure deterrence. “The expansion, diversification and modernisation of the Chinese nuclear arsenal is breathtaking,” he said.
Bussiere went on to complain that unlike Russia, with which the United States has strategic arms limitation treaties, the US and China have no similar agreements in place to reduce tensions or stop an arms race.
“We don’t have, like we have with Russia, any treaty frameworks. We don’t have any strategic stability talks. We don’t have any avenues to alleviate any misperceptions or confusions. So that dynamic, if you look at it from a US-Russia-China perspective, and you look at the mechanisms of stability that we’ve had going on seven decades with Russia, we don’t have those same mechanisms with China,” the commander said.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, an English-language newspaper published under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party-aligned People’s Daily, slammed Bussiere in an editorial for his remarks, suggesting that the Pentagon official’s claim that China’s nuclear arsenal will soon surpass Russia’s carried a “malicious” intent.
“I think Bussiere’s remarks had two malicious goals. First, he wants to sow discord between Russia and China, instigating a sense of crisis in Russia that China’s nuclear capabilities are to surpass Russia.”
China and Russia’s nuclear arsenals are not comparable, and not even “in the same order of magnitude,” Hu wrote, suggesting that it would be “incredible” to suggest “that China’s nuclear capability could surpass that of Russia in the foreseeable future.”
According to a recent estimate by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia’s inventory of nuclear weapons amounted to 6,255 warheads, whereas China was estimated to hold about 350 total weapons, or just 6 percent of the US’ 5,500 nuclear arsenal.
The 9 nuclear-armed states—🇺🇸, 🇷🇺, 🇬🇧, 🇫🇷, 🇨🇳, 🇮🇳, 🇵🇰, 🇮🇱 and 🇰🇵—together possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. This marked a decrease from the 13,400 estimated at the beginning of 2020.
Read more ➡️ https://t.co/zct4xs4RbO pic.twitter.com/zCKZltNT2t— SIPRI (@SIPRIorg) August 30, 2021
In his response to Bussiere, Hu went on to recall that China was the only nuclear-armed state with a nuclear ‘no first use’ policy, which means the country will not be the first to launch nuclear weapons at an adversary under any circumstances in the event of war, and would only do so in response to a nuclear attack on its territory.
The Global Times chief went on to suggest that “Bussiere’s second purpose is sinister, too,” and that his complaints about the lack of nuclear treaties between Washington and Beijing were unjustified.
“By saying so, he aspires to draw China into the mechanisms that would restrain China’s nuclear arsenal development. He wanted to prevent China from increasing nuclear deterrent, and, to sustain the huge disparity of nuclear weapons between China and the US,” Hu suggested. “China must have a firm attitude when it comes to nuclear arsenal development, because it is closely tied to China’s core national security. We should not be dissuaded and moved by the tricks played by US officials and generals,” he stressed.
US officials have repeatedly expressed fears about China’s alleged plans for a “significant expansion” of its nuclear arsenal in recent months, particularly amid reports that the PRC was building more than 100 new nuclear missile silos. In July, State Department spokesman Ned Price suggested that “this buildup is concerning and raises questions about the PRC’s intent”.
In addition to the nuclear weapons themselves, China is known to have developed a number of new delivery systems, including longer-range, more accurate missiles such as the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile, and hypersonic glide vehicles known as the DF-ZF, which can be mounted aboard the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile.
© AP PHOTO / MARK SCHIEFELBEIN
FILE – In this Oct. 1, 2019, file photo spectators wave Chinese flags as military vehicles carrying DF-41 ballistic missiles roll during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing. Trucks carrying weapons including a nuclear-armed missile designed to evade U.S. defenses rumbled through Beijing as the Communist Party celebrated its 70th anniversary in power
China has not publicly revealed how much it has spent on its nuclear modernisation drive, with SIPRI estimating that the country spent a total of $252 billion on defence in 2020. For comparison, the United States, Beijing’s top potential adversary, spent more than $778 billion on defence during the same period, and is in the middle of a 30-year, $1.7 trillion spending spree to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. Despite dramatically outspending both China and Russia, US officials have repeatedly complained about the country’s alleged lack of capabilities compared with these major potential adversaries. Last month, the Congressional Research Service published a primer on hypersonic arms, lamenting that although Russia and China have already “likely fielded operational hypersonic glide vehicles – potentially armed with nuclear warheads,” US programmes in this area “are not being designed for use with a nuclear warhead” and are nowhere near operational status.