China and its intention of nuclear deterrence at the South China Sea

China celebrates its 70th anniversary with the biggest ever military parade to show off its newest missiles

China’s state-controlled media has appeared a call for the country to increase its submarine-launched nuclear-tipped missiles as a strategic deterrent amid growing US military pressure in the South China Sea (Vietnamese call it the East Sea).

The message was given by the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Times on May 27, Hu Xijin who wrote “I would like to reiterate that we have many urgent tasks, but among the most important ones are rapidly increasing the number of nuclear warheads in service, and the DF-41 strategic missile with long-range strike capability in China’s arsenal. This is the foundation of China’s strategic deterrence against the US.”

The head of the newspaper of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee says “In that scenario, a large number of Dongfeng-41, JL-2, and JL-3 ballistic missiles will form the backbone of the will to fight. China’s number of nuclear warheads must reach a level that makes American elites concerned if they intend to engage in a military confrontation with China.”

Responding to the call, this belligerent newspaper published an opinion by Chinese military expert Song Zhongping, who said “Strengthening strategic nuclear deterrence at sea is also an important direction for the development of China’s future as these weapons have better stealth and secondary nuclear strike capabilities.”

According to the same source, China has just put three warships into operation at a naval port in Hainan province, of which the Changzheng 18 is likely a nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarine.

Earlier, on May 19, Al Jazeera newspaper reported that China was building two secret nuclear reactors on Changbiao Island, which are expected to start operating in 2023 and 2026. The source said these two nuclear reactors will operate on a closed fuel cycle, producing plutonium which can be used to make a lot of nuclear warheads and produce them very quickly.

China has stopped reporting on its civilian plutonium program to the International Atomic Energy Agency since 2017. Beijing has also refused to negotiate nuclear arms control.

Calls to increase China’s nuclear weapons appear to be spurred by the appearance of US President Joe Biden’s defense budget proposal on Friday, May 28. In it, the White House announced it would provide about a billion dollars to the Los Alamos National Laboratory to work on plutonium research for an effort to produce 30 nuclear bomb cores by 2026.

Experts say this is a clear signal of President Biden echoing the call of his predecessors to modernize the nuclear stockpile to deter China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

According to a March 2021 report by the Center for Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Policy Education from Washington, “by mining highly enriched plutonium, uranium, and tritium, China can easily access or produce. By 2030, Beijing could cautiously assemble an arsenal of 1,270 warheads (roughly the number that the US now has deployed on its intercontinental missiles).”

The speed and the way in which the Chinese government is modernizing its stockpile is disturbing, destabilizing, and showing why China should be included in the global arms control framework,” said an unnamed US official. (Translated)


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