Recent reports have claimed China is massively expanding its nuclear arsenal based on what is said to be satellite images of missile silos. The latest report was published Tuesday by The New York Times and showed pictures that the Federation of American Scientists say are 110 nuclear missile silos being constructed in the desert of eastern Xinjiang.
Earlier in July, The Washington Post published satellite images that it claimed were over 100 missile silos being built near the northwestern Chinese city of Yumen. Some Chinese media outlets dismissed the report and said the picture was of windmills, and the image published at the top of the Post article has the words “Yumen Gansu Windfarm.” But since the report was published, the Chinese government has not confirmed or denied it.
According to The Associated Press, when asked about the latest report, China’s Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of the situation. This means either the silos are real, or China wants to give the US the impression that it is expanding its arsenal to give the appearance of a greater nuclear deterrence than what Beijing has.
US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which oversees Washington’s nuclear arsenal, has jumped on the reports as proof that China is expanding its arsenal. “This is the second time in two months the public has discovered what we have been saying all along about the growing threat the world faces and the veil of secrecy that surrounds it,” the STRATCOM Twitter account said Wednesday.
Hyping up Beijing’s arsenal serves as a useful tool for the US military, which wants to justify its over $1 trillion nuclear modernization plan. But the reality is, even if China doubles its nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years, which is what the hawks are predicting, it would still be a fraction of what the US and Russia possess.
Current estimates put China’s arsenal between 300 and 350 warheads, while the US and Russia each have around 6,000. The difference explains why China has no interest in participating in trilateral arms control agreements with the US and Russia. Washington frequently calls for Beijing to be involved in arms control talks, and Russia has responded by saying France and the UK should participate too since their arsenals are similar in size to China’s.
The best thing the US and Russia could do to get other countries involved in arms control agreements is dismantle a good portion of their arsenals. But considering all the money behind the modernization plan and how willing Western media is to hype up these reports on China, that is unlikely to happen.
US and Russian officials held arms control talks in Geneva on Wednesday, a result of the recent summit between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. No breakthroughs were made, but both sides agreed to hold further dialogue. The only major piece of nuclear arms control between the US and Russia is the New START Treaty, which Biden and Putin agreed to extend for another five years.