China is a recognized nuclear weapon state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and possesses enough nuclear material for hundreds of nuclear weapons (see table 7.1 at the end of the chapter). China has approximately 400 nuclear weapons and various delivery platforms, mostly short- and medium-range missiles.
Approximately 20 Chinese weapons are deployed on missiles that can reach the continental United States. After developing its first nuclear weapon in 1964, China became a major supplier of sensitive nuclear and missile technology to the developing world. The United States and other countries have worked to draw China step-by-step into the international nonproliferation regime. Over three decades, these efforts have achieved important progress. Proliferation issues exist, but they are now a relatively minor aspect of the United States–China relationship.
China has not officially released details about the size or composition of its nuclear arsenal, making estimates difficult to develop. Much of the unclassified information compiled on China’s forces is from unverified media reports and occasional statements by intelligence or government officials. From these, it is possible to estimate that China fields approximately 152 warheads on land- and sea-launched missiles, 130 bomber weapons, and 120 weapons on artillery, short-range missiles, and other weapons.1 Beijing also maintains a fairly extensive nuclear weapons production and research complex. China has conducted 45 nuclear weapons tests, the first of which took place on October 16, 1964, and the last on July 29, 1996. China has signed but not yet ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Aircraft and Missile Capabilities
China is in the process of modernizing its strategic missile forces, although historically its progress has been slow and has lagged well behind foreign estimates. Although China deploys several types of ballistic missiles, only the DF-5 (13,000- kilometer range) is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by Western standards and is capable of reaching the continental United States. Currently, China deploys approximately 20 DF-5 ICBMs and 12 DF-4 intermediate-range missiles (5,500-kilometer range).2 China is developing and may have deployed the DF-31, a mobile, three-stage solid-fueled ICBM with an estimated range of 8,000 kilometers. China conducted three flight tests of the DF-31, the last one on January 2002. One source concludes that 8 missiles were deployed in 2004. Plans to develop another land-based missile, the DF-41, a solid-fueled ICBM with a range of 12,000 kilometers, appear to have been canceled in favor of an extended-range version of the DF-31, the DF-31A. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that the number of Chinese ICBMs capable of hitting the United States “could increase to around 30 by 2005 and may reach up to 60 by 2010.”
China’s medium-range ballistic missiles include an aging force of 40 DF-3As
(2,900-kilometer range) that it is phasing out after 30 years in service. China also has 48 DF-21As (1,800-kilometer range), but it has converted some to conventionally armed missiles. China is also developing the Julang-2, a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) based on the DF-31. China has only one ballistic missile submarine, however, which has never left coastal waters and is not operational. There are some reports that a new missile submarine may be ready to enter service in the next few years. China’s bomber force consists mainly of aging H-6 aircraft based on the Soviet Tu-16 Badger bomber, with a range of 3,100 kilometers. China purchased 24 Su-30 fighter aircraft and SA-20 surface- to-air missile systems from Russia in 2004, but these are not thought to have been modified for a nuclear role.1
Biological and Chemical Weapons Capability
China is believed by U.S. intelligence to possess chemical and biological weapons research and development programs, and some offensive chemical weapons. There is no publicly available evidence of such weapons. China is a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and has denied having any biological warfare programs. It declared under the terms of the CWC that it previously had a chemical weapons program but that it destroyed those agents before joining the treaty.