Ulterior Motive of China’s Rapid Nuclear Expansion

September 27, 2021 Updated: September 29, 2021

Commentary

The nuclear expansion of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has attracted unprecedented attention from the United States and the international community since 2021. There are three important points regarding this issue.

One: CCP Intends to Reshape Structure of Global Nuclear Forces

On April 23, 2021, three large battleships of different types were enlisted in the CCP’s navy. One of them, Long March 18, is allegedly capable of being equipped with the Julang-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile that has a range of more than 10,000 kilometers.

Being able to cover targets in the United States without a deployment outside of the first chain of major archipelagos from the East Asian continental mainland coast, the Long March 18 has been interpreted by the military experts of the CCP as a qualitative leap in sea-based nuclear power.

On April 20, Admiral Charles A. Richard, Commander of United States Strategic Command, said in a congressional hearing that the CCP is a major strategic threat to the United States because of the rapid modernization of its military strength and the unprecedented expansion of its nuclear capabilities.

Four months later, on Aug. 12, Richard delivered a speech at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, saying that the CCP’s “explosive growth and modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking. Frankly, that word, breathtaking, may not be enough.”

The Washington Post and Federation of American Scientists, an American think tank, successively disclosed on June 30 and July 26 that the CCP was building hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missile silos in the desert areas of Gansu Province and near Hami City in eastern Xinjiang.

The Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said at a press conference on July 1 that the CCP’s expansion of nuclear weapons is becoming more and more difficult to hide and that this action runs counter to decades of its nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence.

In May and July 2020 Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Chinese state-run media Global Times, posted on Weibo that the CCP needs to expand the number of nuclear warheads to 1,000, including at least 100 Dongfeng-41 strategic missiles (which can cover the United States), in a relatively short period of time.

Epoch Times Photo
A security guard stands beside a screen showing video about China’s atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb research during “Road of Revival” Exhibition at the Military Museum in Beijing, China, on Oct. 17, 2007. The exhibition displayed cultural relics, pictures, and documents featuring important historical events in China since 1840, when the nation was defeated in the Opium War. (China Photos/Getty Images)

“We must be prepared for a high-intensity showdown between China and the United States,” said Hu.

The nuclear “balance of terror” was established upon the “mutual assured destruction” between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Given that the pressure from the United States has now fallen on China, the CCP is  rebuilding the nuclear balance.

On the eve of his resignation this January, then U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo published a commentary with then President’s Special Envoy for Arms Control titled “Why China’s Nuclear Build-Up Should Worry the West,” claiming that the CCP has long covered up its development of nuclear weapons and that its nuclear bullying has become radical to an extent that threatens its neighboring countries.

The commentary also stated that if the current trend remains the same, the CCP is expected to increase, at least double, its nuclear inventory in the next ten years.

Two: Renewal of US Nuclear Inventory Gives CCP Breathing Room

On May 5, 2021, the U.S. Air Force implemented the annual random inspection of the launch of LGM-30G Minuteman-3 intercontinental ballistic missile. When entering the final stage of the launch, the missile’s fire control computer automatically locked itself due to a system failure. As a result, the test launch failed.

Added to the failure of the test firing of the Minuteman-3 missile in July 2018, the launch success rate of the missile by the U.S. military, during test launches some 13 times from 2018 to 2021, is only 84.6 percent.

This shows that the Minuteman-3, which has been used by the U.S. military since 1970, is getting old. In addition, the 12 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with 900 nuclear warheads, as well as the B-52 and B-2 strategic bombers with some 600 nuclear warheads, are also old.

In fact, the idea of updating the nuclear inventory was proposed as early as the Obama administration. The United States also planned to build a series of upgraded weapons and replace nuclear warheads.

There are two difficulties encountered in updating the nuclear inventory. The first one is the huge cost, which is estimated to be more than $1.2 trillion. For instance, officials of the U.S. Department of Defense announced on Oct. 19, 2020, that the estimated cost of building a certain Ground-based Strategic Deterrence System (GBSD), which is a replacement of the Minuteman 3, is $95.8 billion.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks as China’s leader Hu Jintao (L), Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev (2nd L), South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak (2nd R), and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) listen at the start of the first plenary session of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit at the COEX Center in Seoul on March 27, 2012. World leaders attend the two-day summit, which is aimed at curbing the threat of nuclear terrorism. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)

The second difficulty is the passing of time. For example, the building of GBSD has been planned for more than 10 years and is still in its infancy. According to the equipment plan of the U.S. military, GBSD is expected to achieve its initial combat capability by 2029, and the realization of its full combat capability is estimated to be achieved after 2030.

In terms of the national strength of the United States, the call for military budget cuts is high because the U.S. national debt exceeded $28 trillion in 2020 (while the U.S. GDP was only $20.955 trillion that year).

The huge difference between the political stance of the two parties and periodic elections can also impact the continuity of the policy that favors the upgrade of nuclear inventory.

It is under such circumstances that the CCP will have a period of at least 10 years to develop its own nuclear weapons.

Three: Integrated Development of CCP Nuclear Power and Weapons

The CCP regards the nuclear field as a high-tech strategic industry and an important cornerstone of national security. The total installed capacity of the nuclear power of China is now third in the world; the number of nuclear power units approved and being constructed has reached 19, ranking it first in the world.

Contrary to the international trend of “nuclear phase-out,” the CCP regards the next 15 years as an important period of strategic opportunity for the development of nuclear power. In March 2021, the government issued a work report proposing, for the first time, “the active and orderly development of nuclear power.”

The 14th Five-Year Plan, which is a series of social and economic development initiatives issued by the CCP, also mentions that by 2035, the operation and the installed capacity of the nuclear power of China will be expected to reach about 200 million kilowatts, accounting for about 10 percent of the national power generation.

Apart from its development of nuclear power, the CCP has another nuclear ambition. Given that the nuclear reactors used for power generation can also be used to extract weapon-grade plutonium, the nuclear industry is extremely sensitive.

In Oct. 2018, the Trump administration issued the U.S. Policy Framework on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with China, significantly tightening the export control of nuclear technology to China and transferring the U.S. civilian nuclear technology to the new type of submarines, aircraft carriers, and floating nuclear power plants.

The CCP first proposed in 2013 a nuclear power “Going Global” strategy and promoted it together with the Belt and Road initiative, bringing it to the level of national importance.

On March 18, 2021, the Chinese nuclear power brand Hualong One became the first overseas reactor to be connected to the grid for power generation.

Different from other energy investment projects, the construction of nuclear power plants is not only a huge investment, but also takes a very long time, and thus allows the CCP to establish close relationships with recipient countries for decades.

Concerned that international relations will be greatly affected, U.S. nuclear energy experts released a report titled “Twenty-First-Century US Nuclear Power: A National Security Imperative” in Jan. 2021, pointing out that the CCP’s seizure of the international nuclear power market poses a serious challenge to the United States in terms of geostrategy.

It can be seen here that the CCP’s nuclear expansion is integrated with its large-scale nuclear power plant construction and seizure of the international nuclear power plant construction market. Such integration embodies the CCP’s attempt to challenge the United States and exposes its ambitions worldwide.

Epoch Times Photo
A man looks at an atomic bomb model at the 60th Anniversary Exhibition at the Beijing Exhibition Center, in Beijing, China, on Sept. 23, 2009. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

Conclusion

The CCP’s arsenal of nuclear weapons is the least transparent among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. U.S. intelligence shows that the CCP launched more missiles in 2018 and 2019 than the rest of the world combined. There are activities all year long at Lop Nur, the CCP’s nuclear testing site.

Some commentators have pointed out that the CCP’s vigorous expansion of nuclear weapons is not only a means of self-defense against nuclear attacks, but also a way to show the CCP’s political influence. In a nutshell, it is all about “the strengthening of nuclear weapons and the establishment of a major power.”

According to an analysis of the CCP’s “Hundred Years of Struggle,” it is estimated that in the field of nuclear weapons, the CCP will be able to compete with the United States to a certain extent by 2035 and be able to defeat it by 2049.

However, there is a huge gap between China and the United States in nuclear weapons. For example, in terms of nuclear tests, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted thousands of them, while the CCP have done only 45 (official figures). Given that the technical capabilities and conditions of the United States are much better than the CCP’s, it is almost impossible for the regime to catch up in the near future.

If the CCP goes to extremes, desperately expands its nuclear weapons, and launches a nuclear arms race with the United States, the United States will definitely fight back, causing the CCP to collapse like the Soviet Union did.

For people in China, even more terrifying is the integrated development of the CCP’s nuclear power and nuclear weapons, because the nuclear power plants in China are all built in economically developed and densely populated areas. There are serious safety issues in the selection of site, operation, and management of those plants.

In June, 2021, the safety of the Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, which claims to be the plant that has the world’s largest single-unit capacity, was questioned by the public. Upon investigation, the company had no choice but to announce a shutdown on July 30 for maintenance.

It is apparent that the first group affected by the CCP’s nuclear expansion would be the Chinese people. If the Chinese want to save themselves, they should be the first to oppose the CCP’s nuclear expansion.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Wang He
Wang He has master’s degrees in law and history, and has studied the international communist movement. He was a university lecturer and an executive of a large private firm in China. Wang now lives in North America and has published commentaries on China’s current affairs and politics since 2017.