A Pentagon report warns that China now possesses more than 400 nuclear warheads, roughly doubling its nuclear arsenal in just two years, while its military has increased its ‘dangerous’ and ‘unprofessional’ military behavior towards the United States and its allies in the region, especially Taiwan.
The pace of China’s accelerating nuclear expansion could allow Beijing to build up a stockpile of around 1,500 warheads by 2035, according to the Pentagon’s annual “China Military Power” report to Congress released on Tuesday.
The United States’ nuclear arsenal, with about 3,800 warheads in active state, would still eclipse China’s.
The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) launched about 135 ballistic missiles for testing and training in 2021, “more than the rest of the world combined, excluding ballistic missile employment in conflict zones,” according to the report. It also continued construction of three intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silo fields, which will contain at least 300 new ICBM silos.
The Pentagon report was based on information on China’s military capabilities that was collected through December 2021, but it also took into account some major events in 2022, including Russia’s war in Ukraine and the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Taiwan in August, according to a senior defense official.
Bradley Bowman, veteran and senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the “quantity and quality” of Chinese missiles are “particularly concerning”.
“If you look at the capability and capability of China’s missile arsenal, it’s breathtaking,” Bowman said, adding that China’s military modernization has “methodically and deliberately pursued specifically designed to defeat the United States”.
South China Sea
China has also increased the number of “dangerous and unprofessional” encounters with the US military and its allies and partners in the region, including Australia.
“We have seen more coercive and aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region, some of which we would highlight as dangerous,” the senior defense official said, citing aerial acrobatics, lasers and discharges of objects like examples.
On Tuesday, China said it had “tracked and chased” a US warship from waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Beijing considers much of the resource-rich sea its territory – despite other nations’ territorial claims – and has created hundreds of hectares of artificial islands to bolster its claims.
The United States Navy confirmed to VOA the USS Chancellorville A missile cruiser conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near the Spratly Islands on Tuesday, but called China’s statement on the mission “false”.
“The USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued to conduct normal operations in waters where high seas freedoms apply,” the Navy said in a statement.
“The United States upholds the right of every nation to fly, navigate and operate wherever international law permits, as the USS Chancellorsville did here. Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us. the Navy added, describing China’s claims to the Spratly Islands as “excessive” and “illegitimate”.
The United States frequently conducts these operations in the South China Sea to challenge territorial claims by China and others and to promote free passage through international waters that carry half the tonnage of the world’s merchant fleet. worth billions of dollars every year.
An international court ruling in The Hague ruled that China had no historic title to the South China Sea, but Beijing ignored the ruling.
“New normal” around Taiwan
China has said it wants to have the ability to control Taiwan, by force if necessary, by 2027, and officials have seen a “high level of new, intimidating and coercive activity” around the island. China regards Taiwan as a capricious province.
“I don’t see an imminent invasion. I think what we’re seeing is sort of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) setting some sort of new normal in terms of the level of military activity around Taiwan after the speaker’s visit,” said a senior defense official to Pentagon reporters.
China executed a slew of missile launches and military demonstrations around the Taiwan Strait during and immediately after Pelosi’s trip, which the speaker said was made to ‘stand alongside’ the island democratic and honoring America’s commitment to Taiwan under a 1979 law.
Since then, China has reduced the number of aggressive actions around Taiwan but has not returned its aggressive behavior to the level it was before his visit.
“The mid-strait crossings have become more and more, you know, sort of routine. In contrast, it was something the PRC reserved for relatively rare occasions when it wanted to send a kind of more political signal,” the senior defense official said.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Cambodia last week that Beijing views Taiwan as a “red line,” according to a statement provided by the Chinese Defense Ministry. .
“Taiwan belongs to China. Taiwan and the resolution of the Taiwan issue are China’s business in which no outside force has the right to interfere,” Wei said, according to the statement.
Russia and beyond
China has continued its military cooperation with Russia. In 2021, a large-scale joint exercise with the Russian military was conducted on Chinese soil for the first time. The exercises were known as Zapad/Interaction.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, a senior defense official says Beijing has not provided direct military assistance to Moscow, but has backed Russia by amplifying Russian disinformation and propaganda .
“Russia’s value as a partner of the PRC remains high,” the official said.
China has the world’s largest navy in terms of number of ships, with a combat force of around 340 ships and submarines. China’s military, according to the report, has 975,000 active duty personnel, and Beijing’s air force is the largest in the region and the third largest in the world, with more than 2,800 aircraft.
The report adds that in addition to the Chinese base in the small African nation of Djibouti, Beijing has considered several other nations for future Chinese military installations ranging from Cambodia to Tajikistan to Kenya.
Cyber espionage by China also remains a “sophisticated and persistent threat”, according to the report. The Pentagon accuses the Chinese military of attempting to take radiation-hardened integrated circuits, gyroscopes, syntactic foam trade secrets, military communications jamming equipment, aircraft technologies, anti-submarine warfare capabilities and other technologies.
Responding to VOA at the Pentagon earlier in November, Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “China is the only country that geopolitically has the potential to be a significant challenge. for the United States”.
He added that China wants to have the best military in the world by 2049 and has made gains in cyber, space, land, sea and air, but stressed that the US military will not let not the Chinese army surpass it.
“And as long as we remain No. 1, we will discourage the war that people are worried about, a great power war between China and the United States,” Milley said.