China is modernising and expanding its arsenal of nuclear weapons giving it an enhanced nuclear strike capability, according to a new report on the Chinese military.
The report said China was developing mobile, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in addition to long-range, submarine-launched ballistic missiles that would be deployed on a new fleet of nuclear submarines.
A US defence official said the shift to mobile and sea-based missiles was an effort by the People’s Liberation Army to improve the ability of its nuclear forces to survive a first nuclear strike.
“China is pursuing long-term comprehensive transformation of its military forces to improve its capabilities for power-projection, anti-access and area denial,” the report said. “China’s actions in certain areas increasingly appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies.”
Releasing its annual report on the Chinese military, the Pentagon also warned that Beijing’s counter-space programme “puts at risk the assets of all space-faring nations”.
In January, China destroyed a satellite with a missile in a move that prompted the US air force to reassess the vulnerability of US satellites.
While the report suggested that most of China’s military modernisation was aimed at preparing for a possible conflict over Taiwan, the Pentagon said Beijing also appeared to be “generating capabilities for other regional contingencies, such as conflict over resources or territory”.
The defence official said China’s growing concern about its vulnerability over energy and natural resources could end up shaping its military planning.
China’s more recent focus on increasing its naval power, including attack submarines, is believed to be partly aimed at protecting sea routes for tankers transporting energy resources.
China maintains that it is simply engaging in a “peaceful rise” and that its military modernisation is commensurate with its economic expansion.