The US is increasingly concerned about China’s deployment of mobile land and sea-based ballistic nuclear missiles that have the range to hit the US, according to people familiar with an imminent Pentagon report on China’s military.
The 2007 Pentagon China military power report will highlight the surprising pace of development of a new Jin-class submarine equipped to carry a nuclear ballistic missile with a range of more than 5,000 miles.
Washington is also concerned about the strategic implications of China’s preparations later this year to start deploying a new mobile, land-based DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the whole US.
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, on Thursday said the report would not exaggerate the threat posed by China. “It paints a picture of a country that is devoting substantial resources to the military and developing...some very sophisticated capabilities.”
The report also outlines concerns about the build-up of missiles across the Taiwan Strait, China’s recent anti-satellite missile test and its development of technologies to deny access in space.
Beijing has strongly criticised previous Pentagon reports on the Chinese military, which it sees as portraying China as a cold war-style enemy, and points out that the Chinese military budget is a fraction of US defence spending.
US experts on the Chinese military have been surprised by the pace of development of the nuclear forces, and particularly the Jin programme. The Pentagon believes that China is developing five Jin submarines. One is already being tested at sea and could become operational next year.
“The Chinese have maintained that they have a ‘no first use’ policy [for nuclear weapons] and that they have a minimal deterrent policy, which means they have only enough nuclear capability to retaliate,” said Michael Green, former White House senior Asia adviser to President George W.?Bush.
“But open source journals and discussions and their own modernisation suggest that they are possibly developing capabilities for a more flexible use of nuclear weapons, and survivability and tactical uses that would call into question this declared policy.”
In 2005, Chinese General Zhu Chenghu fuelled US concerns that China might be changing its strategic stance when he told journalists that it might have to use nuclear weapons against the US if attacked during a confrontation over Taiwan. Chinese officials later restated the country’s “no first use” policy and have privately played down Gen Zhu’s influence.
Some analysts have also suggested that the Chinese move could be partly in response to US plans to develop a ballistic missile defence system.