China can finally tell how big its nuclear stockpile is

An expert has predicted that China’s support of a rare non-proliferation statement this week could be the first step towards arms control talks with the world’s nuclear powers, in which Beijing could reveal the exact size of its weapons stockpile.

The United Nations is committed to preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons in a joint statement issued on Monday by the five permanent members of the Security Council, or “P5”. China, whose estimated warhead count remains dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia, has been hesitant to discuss the reduction in its own arsenal, the exact nature of which remains opaque.

According to October 2021 estimates from the Federation of American Scientists, China has the world’s third-largest nuclear weapons at 350, but Russia and the US have 6,257 and 5,600, respectively, in the pre-Cold War arms race, for all There are accounting figures. Deployed, stored and retired ordnance awaiting disarmament. Meanwhile, France and the United Kingdom have 290 and 225 weapons respectively.

The Pentagon said in its November 2021 China Military Power Report that the Defense Department’s own analysis shows China’s nuclear weapons count is in the low 200, but it expects Beijing to have around 700 by 2027 and at least by 2030. 1,000 will be deployed. US officials have expressed concern over what they believe to be rapid construction.

Hong Kong-based military analyst Leung Kwok-Leung told Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency on Tuesday that China’s part in the joint statement could signal readiness to sit down for arms control talks. The talks could result in China eventually revealing – at least among the P5, if not publicly – the size of its nuclear stockpile.

China is the only P5 country that has not disclosed its nuclear arsenal. Leung believes Beijing can make transparent the number of nuclear submarines, strategic bombers and nuclear-capable missile silos, but he said the process could take a decade or more.

Military vehicles carry China’s DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles at a military parade in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China on October 1, 2019 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. On January 3, 2022, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council issued a joint statement calling for the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Greg Baker / AFP via Getty Images

In its statement, P5 affirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.” They never recommended targeting each other or any other country with nuclear weapons.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price called the five-nation statement extraordinary and suggested Washington was one of its strongest advocates.

“This underscores that even in times of tension, countries have a responsibility to exercise restraint, especially with regard to nuclear weapons,” he said. “I called it an extraordinary statement because it really is. This is the first time that all five nuclear weapon states, parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, have affirmed together that a nuclear war cannot be won and has never been fought. should go.”

Earlier in the day, Beijing’s top arms control official Fu Kang told reporters that the US claim about expanding its nuclear arsenal was not true. He also said that China’s nuclear force should not be estimated on the basis of satellite images.

Fu, who said China would continue to modernize its nuclear weapons, ruled out the possibility of Taiwan deploying nuclear weapons. “Nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent. They are not meant for war or fighting,” he said.

He told China’s state broadcaster CGTN that the joint statement was “a document of historical importance”. It demonstrates the P5’s “collective desire to maintain world peace and reduce the risk of nuclear war,” Fu said.

“I think this is important in itself, but especially against the current background of somewhat high tensions in Europe and this part of the world. People need to realize this,” he said.

statista The graph below shows the world’s estimated nuclear arsenal as of October 2021.

world's nuclear arsenal countries
Estimated global nuclear warhead inventory by October 2021.