The Pentagon this week issued its annual report on China’s military power that claimed Beijing could nearly quadruple its nuclear stockpile by 2035, bringing it to 1,500 warheads.
Current estimates put China’s nuclear stockpile at about 350, although the Pentagon claims the number has surpassed 400. Beijing has signaled it plans to increase its nuclear deterrence, but it’s not clear if they will build new warheads at the rate the Pentagon estimates.
China’s arsenal is vastly smaller than the US and Russia’s and, unlike Washington and Moscow, has a no-first-use policy. Including retired warheads that are expected to be dismantled, the US is estimated to possess 5,500 warheads, and Russia is said to have 6,250.
The US has called on China to engage in trilateral arms control talks, but the only way that would happen is if the US and Russia work together to significantly reduce their stockpiles, and the prospects of any new arms control agreements between Washington and Moscow are bleak.
The Pentagon’s report echoed its recently released National Defense Strategy, which identified China as its top priority. The military power report calls Beijing the “most consequential and systemic challenge to our national security and to a free and open international system.”
The report said that China is keeping up “persistent” military operations around Taiwan, which is a response to increasing US support for Taipei.
In August, China launched its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting the island. Beijing has kept up the military pressure since then by regularly flying planes across the median line, an informal barrier that separates the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Before Pelosi’s visit, China made clear it would respond to the provocation, and analysts rightly predicted that flights across the median line would become a regular operation if she went through with the trip.